Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
The flight line roars with the sounds of Whiskeys and Yankees, the different types of helicopters that Marine Light Attack Squadron 367 utilizes. Heat vapors rise and fits of dust blow through the desert as mechanics and crewman diligently work on the birds on the flight line during their shift.
It’s a waiting game. Hours of inspecting UH-1Y Hueys and preparing for the Troop in Contact alarm to go off, but when it does, it’s a race to save lives.
From the sound of the alarm to taxiing down the runway, the pilots and crew managed to get up-and-running in under four minutes. It wasn’t only how they perform in such a strict capacity that gives them an edge on the battlefield, but how they take the opportunity to train them for the few hours they’re on standby awaiting the call.
The TIC drill is packaged with a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel mission. Unlike a search-and-rescue, a TRAP mission is conducted because an aircraft has gone down in hostile territory and the aircrew needs to be rescued from what could be imminent danger.
“There’s always an element of mystery with the TRAP mission because you’re never sure exactly where the survivor is going to be,” said Maj. Gregory Rivaldi, executive officer, HMLA-367. “One of the reasons we practice like this is because it’s a very reactionary mission and it forces you to build templates, rather than having a set plan, for where (the downed pilot) might be. Then you try to overlay those set templates onto the situation where they are appropriate.”
The two Huey crews escorted two CH-53 Super Stallions to a downed aircraft to allow the Marines and Sailors an opportunity to rescue the downed pilots. Their mission was to suppress enemy fire from the air while the infantry element retrieved the personnel.
“We’re there to protect the package,” said 1st Lt. Dustin Ralph, UH-1Y pilot, HMLA-367. “Our 360-degree (assessment) makes us an ideal platform to gather all that information that’s required prior to the CH-53’s entering.”
The pilots check their flight instruments and thumb through thick manuals in the cockpit while thinking about putting their rigorous flight training to the test. While waiting for the call, the crew tests each other’s knowledge by spouting 9-lines, weapons nomenclature and the workings of night vision goggles, a necessity for many situations that may arise.
They use words like nanometer, micron and electromagnetic spectrum when talking about night vision goggles. It’s a different language compared to the ground side. The crew is constantly honing their skills so that it becomes second nature when a mission changes; they need to adapt to the rapidly changing situation.
The three crew chiefs, a gunnery sergeant and two sergeants, eagerly wait for the mission and put their training to the test with live fire.
While the crew tests each other, the alarm blares and the crew rush to the bird geared up and ready to fly. The rotors turn up and the bird is off the deck and in the air.
Their mission was to escort two CH-53 from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 to retrieve simulated downed aircraft personnel and recover any sensitive gear off the downed aircraft.
The UH-1Y crew stalked the enemy stronghold and bombarded their location with precise fire from the mounted GAU-21 .50 caliber and GAU-17 7.62 caliber machine guns. The aircraft brings a 360-degree field of fire support for advancing forces while the CH-53’s drop off Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, to retrieve the simulated downed pilot.
The Huey dives, breaks right and breaks left. It’s acrobatic, in a way, as the gunners on the side forcefully track their targets, firing 10-second bursts with their machine guns.
The radio chatter signaled their package was retrieved and their mission is complete. They headed back, escorting the CH-53s to friendly lines, to endure the waiting game until the next alarm goes off and their helicopter thunders in the air again.