By Sgt. 1st Class Rick EmertApril 23, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Multi-National Force - Iraq, April 24, 2007) - The efforts of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division Downed Aircraft Recovery Team (DART) will eventually put a downed UH-60 Black Hawk back in the fight.
The aircraft, which went down April 5, cannot be repaired at the level of maintenance available in theater. Where the helicopter will be sent for repairs is up to Aviation and Missile Command, but it will be back in the fight, according to Chief Warrant Officer Donald Greer, Company B, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st ACB.
The aviation brigade's DART team assessed the damage to the aircraft, and determined that the airframe was in good enough condition to slingload it back to Taji, said Chief Warrant Officer Greer, who hails from Lampasas, Texas.
According to Chief Warrant Officer Greer, there are three good options of recovery available to the DART team when a helicopter goes down in Iraq: make repairs on site to fly the aircraft back to base, do an aerial recovery or perform a ground recovery.
There is also a fourth option, the least desirable -- destroy the aircraft at the site. "That's obviously not something that we like to do," Chief Warrant Officer Greer said. "Sometimes that is determined for us."
If the condition of the aircraft is so bad that recovery is improbable, the wreckage is destroyed to prevent sensitive items and technology from getting into enemy hands and also to prevent its use as a propaganda tool.
"It is much better to have a black hole that's not identifiable, then the remains of an aircraft that can be identified and used in a (propaganda) campaign against coalition forces," he said.
In this case, the DART team used aerial recovery and sling-loaded the damaged Black Hawk back to Taji with a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
The 11-person recovery team flew out to the site to assess the aircraft and determine if the Black Hawk could be evacuated back to Taji. The team consists of Soldiers trained to do a variety of jobs including repairs to the aircraft, using a variety of saws to gain access to the aircraft and even moving sensitive equipment from the downed aircraft to one of the recovery vehicles.
"Everybody within the team has a primary function, a secondary function and even a third function," Chief Warrant Officer Greer said. "As much as possible, we cross level across the team. If we have to remove one member from the team, or if one member doesn't make it out there or becomes a heat casualty or some other sort of casualty, somebody else can do that job. It's a combined team out there. It doesn't matter what your job is: you're going to be in there pulling dirt, ripping things apart, cutting things up and trying to load it up."
As the team assessed the aircraft at the site and prepared it for sling-loading, they had security from the U.S. ground forces, Chief Warrant Officer Greer said.
"Every time we get out there, we hit the ground, the security forces are there meeting us at the aircraft, and they escort us right to the downed aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Gary Osburn, Co. B, 615th ASB, who was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the DART team April 5. "I feel very, very safe out there when those guys are there."
When it came time to prepare the Black Hawk for the sling-load, the team put its training and experience to use.
"I would say at least half on the DART team have either air assault school or are very proficient on slingloads," said Staff Sgt. Osburn, from Talala, Okla. "I've done tons of sling-loads. We give classes to the DART team on hand and arm signals, basic things to inspect on a load like fraying of a (slingload) leg. If you're in a hurry, rushing things, there are things you can't overlook."
The recovery was a total success, Chief Warrant Officer Greer said.
"The aircraft is here in one piece, no injuries to the DART team," he said. "You can't ask for anything more than that."