Monday, November 23, 2015

Just stopping by...

These look like so much fun
We recently had some of our Regular Army friends drop by on their way to some training.  That really looks like a fun way to arrive at a location - I wonder if the airlines are working on it?

Just in case they need to go through the bad part of town

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Annual Training

Waiting to extract some MPs

The last two weeks have been our annual training period, and unlike the last couple of years we actually got to do some training we needed instead of just fun stuff.  To clarify, we have new pilots and crew chiefs that have to progress through a series of specific tasks before they can become qualified.  While the Angel Thunder exercise last year and the Panama deployment the year prior were fun for those of us who were already qualified, and looked great on the battalion brag sheet, they didn't allow us to do the the progression training we really needed.

This year the number one mission was progression, and while we did have a couple of other commitments, they complemented rather that competed with our primary mission.  As one of the crew chief flight instructors I spent most of the time on night shift working with our trainees who had progressed to the NVG (night vision goggles) portion of the training.  The first couple of nights we supported some Air Force JTACs (Joint Tactical Air Controllers) in an exercise that involved us, combat search and rescue, a couple of Apache gunships, some F-16's and an AC-130.  We used this opportunity to take one of our crew chiefs who was nearly completed with training for an exposure to a difficult mission in as close to combat conditions as possible.  He did fine, and overall it was a good mission.

The MPs getting their safety briefing from a crew chief prior to loading

We also did a four ship night air assault to insert and extract some MPs in support of their training.  This is one of our standard missions, but not something they get to do very often.  We had to watch the weather since a storm was threatening the area, but it slid back down into Mexico so we didn't need to execute any of our contingency plans.  It was a dark night, and dust was a bit of an issue, but the training went well.


The above video was taken by SSG Marco Lechuga, a former member of out unit.  He's working with another command at the moment, but this is a small community so we expect him back eventually.  It's a neat slow motion video of sling operations from the point of view of the hook up team.  This night I was evaluating one of our trainees in NVG sling operations (he passed, btw).  It was a tough night - we had dust blowing in and 22 knot gusts from the south (left on the video.) It kept both him and the pilot working.  This is also a pretty good look at the world through NVGs.  The bright light on the right of the helicopter is the red position light.  It's actually no brighter than the green one on the other side, but the goggles are much more sensitive to red.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Rockets Red Glare...

A star burst from the town fireworks display
When the Missus announced yesterday that she had always wanted to photograph fireworks and that the town show was only a couple miles away, my first reaction was something of an internal groan.  I've never been very fond of being in large crowds, so I don't have much desire to go to local events.  And having spent years on the outgoing and occasionally incoming sides of large ordinance has somewhat diminished the amount of charm the annual fireworks show holds for me.  However she clearly wanted to go and since the first rule of getting a good photograph is to stand in front of something interesting that became the plan for the evening.

Fortunately for me, the Missus isn't all that partial to large crowds either, so when we went out to scout the location in the afternoon we found where the public venue was being set up, and more importantly we found out where the fireworks were going to be launched from.  It turns out there is a large empty field with an unobstructed view of the launch site about a mile away, really a perfect distance to photograph from.  We also scouted out an alternate about two miles away in case the field was going to be closed.

The show was scheduled to start at 9:00pm, so we arrived about a half hour early to set up and found that there were several families out in the same field, but there was plenty of room and the session went well.  We both got some nice shots and it was a pleasant evening.

Settings:  Camera was on a tripod, set to ISO 200, 75mm lens (150mm full frame equivalent), f/8, 4 second exposures.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015


We went on a photo trip to Monument Valley recently, during which we met Morris.  Morris was a Corpsman (medic) with the 22nd Marines for the the invasion of Guam and after they were moved into the 6th Marine Division the invasion of Okinawa, where he lost a leg.  He went on to be a successful businessman in the chemical industry and for his upcoming 90th birthday decided to treat himself to a rather strenuous 5 day photography workshop. He was fun company and we had some great discussions with him during the week.  I hope I'm half as sharp and active when I reach 90.  Hell, even reaching 90 is an accomplishment.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Unexpected Visitor

A Schweitzer 300C prepares to leave after paying a visit to the facility.
Drill this weekend was livened up a bit by a visit from this S300 operated by a local flight school.  They were passing near the facility on a photo flight when the pilot noticed an unusual vibration and a reduction in engine performance.  This is not the sort of thing you want to be troubleshooting in flight and the pilot wisely decided to make a precautionary landing.  Nearby Sky Harbor tower pointed out our facility as the nearest safe place to put down, which he did.  The pilot and photographer were then introduced to Army paperwork and spent some time talking with Operations, Security and the Phoenix police while waiting for a company mechanic to come out and look at the problem.  (No, they weren't in trouble, it's just that the right process has to be followed.) As it turned out they had a fouled spark plug, a not unknown condition with that type of engine.  After fresh plugs were installed and the ship tested, they proceeded on their way back to their home airport.  While it was a bit of an administrative hassle for them, at least they didn't land at an Air Force base where security rolls out with loaded machine guns when an unexpected civilian aircraft shows up for whatever reason.  We enjoyed the visit, and this being the first time this had happened at the facility Operations developed a standard operating procedure to use should it happen again.  Good job on the pilot who made the correct decision for the situation.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A busier than usual drill weekend

We had a long drill this last weekend, partially because it was our aerial gunnery drill out at Gila Bend and partly because we're preparing for an upcoming admin inspection.  As a result we had a four and a half day drill this month.  This half day bit is arguably a waste of time since all it really does is ensure that everyone is tired at the start of the first full day of training, but the powers that be seem to love the illusion of progress.  On Thursday, however, we managed several training flights, inspection preparation and prepared all the equipment for Fridays trip to the range.  Unlike past gunnery quals this time we did not stay out at Gila Bend.  Since we're only a 30 minute flight from there it worked well for us, and hopefully we'll do it that way again next time.  Friday was scheduled for the crews that were fully qualified in day, night and NVG operations.  This made for a fairly busy afternoon and evening, but we still managed to get everything wrapped up by 10:00pm.  Saturday we came back out first thing in the morning to take care of the crew members that were not yet Night/NVG qualified and also ran some pilots and VIP's through the course on the guns.  Pilots don't get to shoot the machine guns very often, so it's nice for them to get the chance.  It also helps us as they get a better feel for the limitations involved.  While we had the range scheduled for well into the evening and Sunday during the day in case we had some problem, we ended finishing up before noon on Saturday.  Everyone gets excited about drawing 30,000 rounds of ammo, but with four helicopters that's actually only about 10 minutes at the cyclic rate of fire.

If you ain't shootin', yer loadin'...

While were were fueling at one point on Saturday the Maintenance Officer called with an interesting proposal:  Between us and the Med Det we have 12 helicopters assigned, and all of them were up.  He suggested we take the opportunity to do a 12 ship formation as a salute to the maintenance troops down to the Best Warrior competition at Florence Military Reservation on Sunday.  While the competition would be wrapped up by the time we got there (we're not allowed to fly before noon on Sunday), the brigade command staff would still be there.  Anyone who has ever been involved in military aviation knows how rare it is that they have 100% of the assigned airframes available - it just does't happen very often.  We had done 10 ships flying for deployments, but no one could recall a 12 ship.  We jumped on it.

I'm in the fifth one from the top, Chalk 5
Our senior instructor pilots started doing the mission planning, and by Sunday morning we were planned and approved and having our formation briefing.  Since we can only launch four at a time from our facility, the plan was to launch three flights of four and lager at the nearby airfield at Superior, a dirt strip that gets little use.  From there we would fly down to Florence.  By 12:30 we had as many maintenance and support company people loaded in the helicopters as we could carry and were preparing for a 1:00 launch.  Things were running smoothly until Chalk 11 reported a sheared starter shaft.  There was no way it was going to be able to launch with us.  Our remaining maintainers weren't going to take this lying down however, and requested approval to swap the starter and have Chalk 11 join up with us on the way to Florence.  The mission commander approved that immediately and we proceeded with the mission.

We reached Superior as scheduled, and were updated on the status of Chalk 11.  The starter replacement was completed and they were doing the operational check.  They predicted launch in about 10 minutes so it was decided we would delay at Superior for 5 minutes so they would join up with us in our practice area near Williams/Gateway airport (the old Williams AFB for you wing wipers out there...)

It all came together, we joined up without incident and completed the mission. Returning to base the tower at Sky Harbor could be heard chuckling as he granted permission for the flight of 12 through Phoenix airspace.  During our debrief one of the crew chief was informed by his parents who were at a MLB spring training game that they put us up on the jumbo-tron as we flew by, and sent us an phone picture of us passing by.

When all was said and done several of us were talking about it and couldn't decide what was more impressive - that we pulled off a 12 ship formation flight, or the fact that the whole mission was put together in less than 12 hours.