MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
With its freezing temperatures, and mountainous terrain, Mountain Warfare Training Center not only challenges and attracts the ground element of the Corps, but also the Flying Leathernecks.
Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., turned their CH53-E Super Stallions north to test them against the white peaked mountains and thin, high altitude air.
“There’s less air up here, so when the rotor blades are essentially slicing the air, there are fewer air molecules to create lift,” said Capt. Elizabeth Laquidara, a pilot and operations officer with HMH-361 Flying Tigers. “[The training] makes you an all-around better pilot and air crew. The colder air has a different effect on the engine and air frames itself. It is all-around better training that we don’t get back in Miramar.”
While learning to deal and adjust with the new environment, the group practiced terrain flights, external lifting and landing in the snow, things many of the pilots have never done before.
“This is like a once-in-a-career type of [training] for us,” said Sgt. Jeremy Lombard, quality assurance representative for the squadron. “We get experience landing in the snow, high altitude and forest.”
History reminds the Flying Tigers of the importance of high altitude training, even when deployed to the deserts of Afghanistan. On Dec. 10, 2010, in the mountains of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, an Army CH-47 Chinook was forced to land during an operational flight because of unknown troubles with the aircraft.
The HMH-361 Marines took their CH-53E Super Stallions to recover the Chinook in unfamiliar high altitude, low power conditions. The team successfully recovered the craft.
“All-weather fighters need to be able to get in any zone or area at any time,” said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Bultman, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the unit. “We support the guys on the ground, wherever they are.”