Twentynine Palms -- Until recently, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, based out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., had been working through an ongoing dilemma. Instead of the squadron becoming derailed, one Marine used ingenuity to keep the “Vipers” moving forward.
HMLA-169 is currently conducting Integrated Training Exercise 5-16 aboard the Combat Center to prepare for their role in their upcoming deployment. When the squadron’s aircraft are not in use they sit idle on the metal plates of the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field, leaving them exposed to the various elements. In a different climate, that wouldn’t be an issue. But in a setting as harsh as the southern Mojave Desert, much like the climates Marine aircraft encounter while forward deployed, it is.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Plyler, flight equipment technician, HMLA-169, recognized the issue at hand with the Bell AH-1Z helicopter and, in true Marine fashion, manufactured a solution. This solution will not only benefit the squadron here, but will continue to benefit Marines facing similar climates at home and abroad.
“It’s. It covers the outside of the cockpit, which protects the aircraft from outside elements like wind and sun,” Plyler said. “The biggest concern is the heat.”
Prior to Plyler’s invention, there was nothing in existence to protect the Bell AH-1Z from extreme desert conditions. As temperatures rose, the lack of protection became a formidable challenge to the operations of the squadron. So, Plyler worked from scratch. He gathered materials for the cover and conducted research to find out which materials were thermal-based. From inception to completion, it took approximately six months before he created a usable cover.
“Without a cover, the heat is constricted and the cockpit has the same effect as a magnifying glass in direct sunlight,” Plyler said. “The pilots would do quick pre-flight checks, but it would get so hot that their hands would start burning through their gloves, or the multi-function displays would overheat.”
With the introduction of these covers, temperatures in the cockpit have decreased more than 65 percent and both the pilots and aircraft maintainers are able to conduct their duties without a hitch.
“Conducting proper pre-flight operations are very critical for a pilot. They should be done the same way every time so that there are no missteps,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Ganyard, AH-1Z co-pilot, HMLA-169. “The covers are in no way inhibitive to our pre-flights or our operations but instead a complete asset.”
Currently, the covers are only being used by HMLA-169, but other squadrons have expressed interest in testing them to see how well they perform. Although Plyler is proud of what he built, he is more proud of being able to further guarantee the well-being of the Marines in his squadron.
“I know that at the end of the day everything we do has an impact on the safety and well-being of the Marines who are flying,” Plyler said. “It’s a good feeling to know that the gear we provide for them keeps them safe and is actually effective.”