FORT HOOD, Texas - Envisioning a joint effort between the Army and Air Force, Capt. Emily Wolf stared in awe at the C-5 Galaxy cargo aircraft towering above her, watching her vision turn into reality.
“We’re going to be loading the UH-60 (Blackhawk) into the back of the C-5,” Wolf, commander of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cav. Division, said.
During a joint service training event, the 1st ACB team conducted aircraft loading and unloading operations alongside the Air Force’s 621st Mobility Support Operations Squadron, 621st Contingency Response Wing, at Robert Gray Army Airfield here, Feb. 24.
At Fort Hood, DynCorp International holds a contract to load aircraft in preparation for deployment. When returning home from deployment, however, it is up to the Soldiers to do everything themselves. With the 1st ACB preparing to deploy within the year, Wolf wanted her Soldiers to be ready.
“I pitched the idea in October and thought it would be cool,” Wolf explained, admitting she had doubts whether it would be approved. “It’s great they made it happen.”
After Wolf pitched the idea for the joint mission to her brigade, Air Force Capt. Nick Evangelista, the air mobility liaison officer, was contacted about making the mission happen.
“We had a solid plan going into it, so it made it as smooth as possible,” Evangelista said. “We started by teaching the basics of the air movements and then the helicopter flew in and the Cav. Brigade came in and folded the blades and got the aircraft prepared.”
To prepare the Blackhawk for storage in the Air Force’s largest cargo aircraft, which is large enough to hold six Blackhawks, a few things had to be done first. To keep the helicopter as slim as possible, while also preventing its blades from being damaged, the blades have to be “folded” back.
Wolf admitted to feeling disconcerted seeing the Blackhawk prepared for shipment, because its blades are all tied together and, as an aviator, she always wants to see the Blackhawk fly. She described the “folded” helicopter as looking “like a girl with her hair swept back.”
After the 1st ACB Soldiers folded the blades and made other preparations for loading operations, the 621st MSOS Expeditionary Air Ground Liaison Element Team from McGuire, New Jersey, inspected their work, while simultaneously training the Airmen in their roles.
The EAGLE Team is an air movement group of enlisted aviators and aerial port members who train organizations worldwide how to properly prepare equipment for air shipments. The Airmen guided the Soldiers in marking the locating the center of balance for the Blackhawk, as well as looking for any issues that could make the helicopter unsafe for transport.
“We’re basically making sure that once this takes off, it’s not going to catch fire or cause a hazard to one of our crew,” Air Force Staff Sgt. Taylor Gaughf, EAGLE Team lead, explained.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Christine Lopez, a member of the EAGLE Team, said the Fort Hood Soldiers were very responsive to all the training they received and quick to fix any mistakes.
The entire process took four months to prepare, a day to “fold” the Blackhawk and a day to load the Blackhawk onto the C-5 Galaxy. Wolf said she wanted to ensure her Soldiers are familiar with the shipment process, so they loaded the Blackhawk multiple times.
“The whole point was just the familiarization with that aircraft shipment process, especially using an air vessel, which isn’t something that normally gets to be done,” Wolf explained. “You can see it in a manual and talk about aircraft shipment, but to actually be able to put their hands on their aircraft, get the blades swept back and do all the preparation work in order to load it and then actually having that interaction with the Air Force … it’s a great experience.”