ARABIAN GULF - The engine whines and rotors turn, slow at first, then picking up speed until there is a consistent hum and swoosh. The Black Hawk takes off over the desert; in all directions the crew can see desert tan landscape with tire track scribbles leading to an occasional dwelling. Twenty minutes into the flight, the desert tan fades into a reddish brown then a frothy curvy line. This is the line of demarcation where land meets sea.
The Black Hawk and crew are flying out to sea for deck landing qualifications aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66).
"Army air crews don't typically get to fly over the water," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Allen Richardson, a standardization pilot with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment attached to 8th Battalion, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion.
"Much less fly in coordination with U.S. Navy personnel."
Another 20 minutes into the flight and the desert disappears over the horizon; the crew now sees nothing but blue. The aqua blue sea blends into a powder blue sky. Moments later a single, grey speck is visible in the water, the USS Gonzalez. The Black Hawk crew prepares for its first of several deck landings.
The helicopter circles then approaches for a landing. Once on the deck of the Gonzalez, two U.S. Navy Sailors in blue life vest and helmets rush to secure the aircraft to the deck of the Gonzalez. The flight crew dismounts the Black Hawk and enters the Gonzalez heading toward the captain's mess.
"Have you ever been on a ship?" asked Lt. Col. Clinton Williams, commander of 8th Battalion, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion.
The flight crew, almost in unison, shake their heads no. The light turbulence of the Black Hawk is replaced with a sporadic sway of the Gonzalez from starboard to port and port to starboard.
Williams, the tallest of the crew, ducks as he passes through each doorway. Upon reaching the captain's mess, the Black Hawk crew remove their life vests and helmets, and sit at a long, blue table as they meet the Gonzalez crew.
Both crews are focused on how the Black Hawk could be an extension of the Gonzalez and how the Gonzalez could be an extension of the Black Hawk.
After the exchange of information, the Black Hawk crew takes a tour of the Gonzalez. The highlight of the tour is deep in the ship. It is a dark, cold room which houses the eyes and ears of the Gonzalez; a control room containing radar and sonar equipment that enables the two crews to communicate.
"Army aviation is all about mobility on the battlefield and working with Navy ships and qualifying crews on landing on U.S. Navy ships, and working with U.S. Navy ships out in the water just gives us that third dimension of mobility," said Richardson. "Not just ground-air mobility but sea-air mobility as well."
Back at the flight deck, the Black Hawk crews complete several landings and takeoffs guided by Sailors on the flight deck while communicating with the control room aboard the Gonzalez.
After all Black Hawk pilots and crewmembers qualify, they head back toward land. The powder blue sky and aqua blue sea meet with the frothy white line to the reddish brown sand to the tan sand and back to the base.
"I think today's training was very successful and also very enlightening," said Richardson. "Thanks to the Navy guys for helping us in coordinating
and all the cooperation that they gave us today. That made for a really good training."