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Red Line
24th MEU ACE conquers carrier quals
Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 200641143238
Story by Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola Red Line

Aboard USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), 31 March 2006— As darkness falls across the face of the deep, the horizon pours away its last drops of light and leaves the world black and empty. Rotor blades snap through the air like lightning as grey shapes emerge from the void, appearing like a dream aboard the swaying deck of a shapeless ship.

In the blink of an eye, a pair of CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365 (Reinforced) burst off the deck of the USS Iwo Jima and disappear back into nothing, their tell-tale heartbeat echoing across the sea.

In order to safely set down or take-off aboard the deck of a ship, pilots and crew chiefs with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Aviation Combat Element are using their time during the Expeditionary Strike Group Exercise to hone carrier qualification skills in anticipation of deploying this spring to the European and Central Command theaters of operation, said Lt. Col. Jeff Hagan, HMM-365 (Rein.) executive officer.

“When you go off the front (of the carrier), it’s like flying into a black hole,” explained Hagan. “Everyone needs to know what they’re doing because your chances of putting it in the water are good if someone’s not paying attention.” According to Hagan, the key to successful carrier operations lies in developing the basic fundamentals and communication between signalmen, pilots and crew chiefs. In order to launch from the deck, there’s a specific order of verbal and non-verbal communication that transforms the process into an onboard orchestra.

Personnel in the tower and on the deck’s flightline help to orchestrate the process, starting the music when the signalman gives the “clear to lift” followed by the crew chief calling “clear left and above” over the internal communication system. After receiving final clearance, the pilot pulls power and lifts the aircraft into the sky.

“At a certain point it’s a function of repetition,” added Hagan about the scripted procedure of launching aircraft from the deck. “No matter who’s in the cockpit or the crew, everyone’s doing the same thing at the same time.”

Once the aircraft is airborne and the mission is completed, the crew has to bring the helicopter back safely to the ship – a task that’s challenging during daylight flights and unforgiving at night. Capt. Courtney D. Jones, HMM-365 (Rein.) operations administrative officer and CH-46E pilot boils the process down to a simple morbid equation – “the ships in the middle of the ocean. There’s no type of out. You either land on the ship or not.”

For the crew chiefs, the challenge lies in processing a barrage of information – from what they see through night vision goggles, to the heaving deck of the ship, other aircraft and the constant communication with the pilots.

“It’s everything wrapped into one,” said Lance Cpl. Benjamin Meadows, an HMM-365 (rein.) crew chief training for his first deployment. “It’s more trouble at night because you have to be more aware.”

“We’re out in the middle of nowhere,” added Lance Cpl. Adam Casteel, HMM-365 (rein.) crew chief. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty excited about it. It’s a challenge that I’m looking forward to.”

For the pilots and crew chiefs with the “Blue Knights” the harder the task, the more fun they’re having, said Jones.

“It’s challenging and enjoyable to see how many times you can land with your wheels in the paint,” said Jones. “It’s all about landing between two spinning aircraft and trying to look good doing it.”

With the hectic schedule of carrier qualification operations during ESGEX, HMM-365 (Rein.) will be one step closer to deploying this spring with fully operational crews. Maintaining and building on the skills of ACE personnel ensures that the “Blue Knights” remain “second to none” while the MEU is underway.

The ESGEX comes during the MEU’s six-month pre-deployment workups that kicked off Nov. 30. The exercise involves each of the MEU components: Command Element; Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 8th Marines; HMM-365(Reinforced); and MEU Service Support Group 24.

Story provided by United States Marine Corps

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Updated: 12 January 2008
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