Wednesday, December 10, 2014

State Muster

An extreme case of parking in multiple spots.  Setting up our display in the morning.
This weekend Arizona had a state wide National Guard Muster at the Sun Devil Stadium on Arizona State University's campus.  Never missing the opportunity for a dog and pony show, we flew a helicopter in for a static display along with representative samples of other military equipment.  I spent the day with our crew showing off the Blackhawk to anyone interested.  I actually enjoy doing static displays once in a while as people who have never seen a helicopter up close get a chance to take a look and ask questions.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fly By

Marine AH-1 Cobras
This morning I heard the characteristic Huey thumping sound outside, and of course had to investigate.  It was a couple of Marine AH-1 Cobras, probably from MCAS Yuma.  When Bell made the Cobra, they used a lot of the UH-1 design to work from.  It could be said they took a Huey and shaved the fuselage down to 36" wide and started putting armament on it.  That would be a simplification, but isn't too far off the mark.  The Army retired the Cobra and Huey many years ago for the Apache and Blackhawk, but the Marines have stuck with it, with Bell still updated the designs.  I've always had a soft spot for the Cobra.

(Note:  It just struck me how much technology has changed since the Cobra was introduced.  I heard these birds, grabbed my camera and photographed them, downloaded, selected and post processed the image and posted it on the blog.  As I write this, they're probably still airborne.)

Monday, September 29, 2014


A rotor wing reunion
The state finally deciding that we had enough money, we had our final drill of the fiscal year this weekend.  This one was unusual for me as I ended up in Tucson nearly the entire weekend.  We were supposed to ferry the Land Component Commander ( a General) around to the range facility in Florance and then to Tuscon, with a return planned in early afternoon.  Unfortunately the weather in Phoenix decided to have another record breaking day, with weather so bad they not only closed Sky Harbor airport, they evacuated the control tower.  Usually the big storms pass through relatively quickly, but this one had staying power which resulted in our VIP passengers electing to take ground transportation rather than wait it out.  (The general pointed to a United 737 waiting on the ramp next to our bird and said words to the effect that they would probably get through.  We pointed out that particular aircraft was diverted from Phoenix.  The passengers sat out there for about three hours before things finally opened up.) Because of duty day limits command decided we should overnight at Tuscon and return the next day.

While there a company of AH-64 Apaches and a couple of CH-47 Chinooks stopped for fuel and lunch.  We had quite the line up there at the airport for a while.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Caught One!

F-35 turning crosswind for Luke AFB
I finally managed to catch one of the new F-35's out of Luke AFB today.  According to the PAO they're now up to 7 aircraft and have just recently passed 100 sorties.  They are a bit louder - they really do remind me of the old J-57 engines, but I don't find them to be any better or worse than the F-16.  Of course I grew up around tactical aviation so some of the neighbors may disagree.  Lately they've been taking off and landing to the south which is a bit unusual for Luke.  I usually get the best look at them as they return from Gila Bend for runway 03L/R. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Korean Memory

Even the tankers were loaded for bear...
OldAFSarge just posted a story that brought back some memories...  This was back in 1976 when we were both E-4's in our respective services, though we hadn't met.  In one of the periodic flare ups that happen with depressing regularity in Korea, a ruckus occurred on the DMZ that ended up in a lethal fight with axes of all things.  This snapshot was taken during our response from the USS Midway to the incident.  During our month of "practice strikes" on Nightmare range; conveniently located near the DMZ we operated pretty much round the clock dropping ordinance.  I remember taking this shot since the aircraft, an A-6A of VA-115 was assigned as a tanker, and you may notice he's carrying 500lb bombs and sidewinder missiles in addition to the refueling equipment.  He brought the missiles and fuel tanks back, but left the bombs on the target.  You should have seen what the aircraft actually assigned to bomb looked like!  As a historical note at the time CAG-5 aboard the Midway had two squadrons of F-4s (VF-151 and VF-161), two of A-7s (VA-56 and VA-93), and an A-6 squadron (VA-115) handling offense.  In a supporting role were VQ-1s EA-3, VMFP-3's RF-4s, VMAQ-2's EA-6s, VAW-115's E-2s, and HC-1's SH-3s.  Not a bad turn out for one ship.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Enjoying the View

On the way to Flagstaff
Here's another photo from the last drill, this one from the trip up to Flagstaff.  We have routes where we do terrain flight up most of the way, but while those are fun they're also work.  This trip we were moving the unit up to our training area so the concentration was on multiship operations.  They also involve work, but with the higher altitude there was the occasional moment to enjoy the view.  This was taken looking west in the Sedona area.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Longbow over Arizona

Apache Longbow near Picacho Peak
We had a busy weekend spent mostly in the Flagstaff area doing high altitude training.  There was a fair amount of weather (rain, hail and thunderstorms) that we dodged in the process.  It was a nice break from the usually nice but hot weather in the Phoenix area.  Sunday we flew some people down to Marana and had an AH-64D Apache Longbow join up with us.  Getting air to air shots is not something you get to do every day, so I grabbed my iPhone and got this one.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hidden in plain sight.

One of these things is not like the others...
This last drill we flew our new land component commander down to Marana where he spoke to our sister battalion, the 1-285th AHB, the local Apache command.  It was a good day for flying, and while ferrying general officers around is not the most exciting mission we do, it's not bad for a change.  Our couple hour stay was made even more pleasant by the fact that the first battalion Family Support Group was having a bake sale, so coffee and conversation was available while we waited.

First Battalion FRG bake sale

Friday, May 30, 2014

Still seeing Falcons

F-16 Fighting Falcon arriving at Luke AFB.
We heard back in March that the first F-35 had been delivered to Luke AFB, and that more were to follow shortly.  I don't know how much flying they're doing as of yet, but I keep looking for them.  So far, no joy...  The F-16s are still the main show. 

645DF+/P20, 300mm @ f11, 1/400 sec and ISO 200.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day, 2014

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery

Don Layman
Johnny Cardenas
Darrel Kasson
Charles Browning
Richard Peris
Julie Ryan
Carroll LeFon
Timothy Simpson

Monday, May 19, 2014

Angel Thunder

Week One video

What is now the USAF Para Rescue concept was born in the Army Air Force during WWII out of the need to drop rescue personnel in remote locations to assist downed air crews.  Their mission has evolved over the years.  In the late 1940's and 1950's the cold war mission of the Air Force placed aircraft over areas where the only practical extraction was via ground, and the PJ's (para jumpers) were survival experts who dropped to downed crews with the skills to keep them alive till help arrived.  During the Viet Nam conflict the mission evolved into combat search and rescue, with the HH-3 and HH-53 helicopters becoming famous as "Jolly Green Giants."  With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the mission was again modified to support special operations.

Yours truly providing a familiarization briefing to US and Columbian Special Forces troops.  (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Chris Massey/Released)
Angel Thunder is an annual Personnel Recovery exercise where US and foreign forces can practice their combat search and rescue skills.  This year our unit was involved in several supporting missions.  In the video above, the Blackhawks without the refueling probes were ours.  The grey ones with the probes are the Air Force Pavehawks.  Those special forces troops and the Columbian special forces guys shown were some of our customers.  We did several air assaults with them, and I was lucky enough to crew on three of them.

Wrap up video
As part of this years exercise, we started by transporting the "White Cell" staff around for their various planning and coordination sessions.  The White Cell are kind of like the umpires of the exercise.  Other activities we were involved in were unconventional recoveries  and a downed aircrew exercise.  For the downed aircrew exercise we flew a mission that was supposed to put a Navy/Marine remote air control tower at a local airport.  The scenario had two ships shot down and a third damaged, with hostile ground activity requiring the downed crews and passengers to navigate cross country to the pick up point.  While we knew there would be a downed crew scenario, none of us knew when or how it was to come down.  The remote tower people were completely taken by surprise, and were not happy campers having to hike through mountainous desert with all their gear.  With them were a couple SERE (survival school) instructors evaluating the exercise.  After a strenuous 4 hour hike they made the PZ (pickup zone) in time for our Apache gunship escort to clear the area for us while we went in for a night recovery using night vision goggles.  This is pretty much how we make our money in Army aviation.  Fortunately for those on the ground one of the crew chiefs who was shot down with them gave them a brief on what to expect when we showed up.  A night helicopter pickup is not like you see in the movies - it's loud, blinding and painful, particularly in the desert where the debris kicked up by the rotor wash all seems to head for your face.  It's also disorienting being dark and dusty.  Being an exercise, we took our time picking them up to make sure we had everyone strapped in safely before picking up.  In a hostile area we would make sure we had the right number of people, close the doors and go.

For our air assault missions we would fly to Tuscon, pick up our troops and fly to the exercise area in Florence for the insertion.  The scenario was four friendlies had been captured and were being held by the bad guys.  Our ODA (Operational Detachment A) Team and the Columbian Special Forces soldiers would assault the target buildings and either gather intelligence, capture a high value target, rescue the hostages, or all of the above.  Being an exercise, of course the first couple of raids came up empty.  The first two raids were night operations, so there isn't much video of them.  The final raid was done during the day, with the troops rescuing the hostages, and capturing the "high value target," who regrettably succumbed to his injuries (simulated!).

This was an excellent two weeks of training - we flew 180 hours plus another 130 hours of simulator training for some of our new crew members.  We got to work with other services, federal and local agencies, foreign military and the special operations community, which is always a good time.  We also made some connections with people we can hopefully train with in the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bucket Training

Water drop or "Bambi Bucket" training
Fire season is upon us in the southwest, and part of our annual ritual in the National Guard is "Bambi Bucket" training.  A combination of academic courses and practice, it gives us a chance to make sure all the buckets are working properly, but the real purpose is to make sure we're on the same page as the civilian authority that runs the fire response.  The buckets we use can hold 660 gallons of water, but we normally cinch them down to 80%, or about 530 gallons.  This ends up weighing somewhere around 4500 pounds, and while we can lift more the fires in Arizona can be at higher altitudes so it's good to have some buffer.  We usually don't get called early in the season unless things get really bad quick.  Civilian helicopter operators get the first call (they're on contract) for federal lands and as long as they can handle it we don't get the call.  Later in the season, or if the fire is on state land we get called a little quicker.

By the way - That urban legend about a scuba diver being found in a burn zone is really unlikely...  The bucket is only 50 feet below us, and we look at it as we're scooping and while flying.  A diver would be noticeable, to say the least...

Hasselblad 500EL/M, 80mm lens at f16, 1/250 sec with Tri-X 400 film

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Up on the #2 Engine inspection platform
Maintenance Test Pilots preflighting one of the helicopters for a test flight.  While not all maintenance requires a test flight, any work done on components that effect flight safety - controls, engines or airframe for example, do require the services of the MTPs.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Recon Flight

Morning Flight
One of our Blackhawks heading south to recon some potential training sites.  There's a lot of behind the scenes preparation involved in training, especially when we're carrying soldiers from other units.  Our infantry units need to practice insertions and pick ups, so we check out the LZ's before hand to make sure they get the most realistic training with the minimum amount of risk. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Tooling on by...

Our Border Collie Fly goes nuts when she sees one of these
OK, so not everything in our airspace is a fast mover.  On the bright side, when you sight one of these guys you have time to go get your camera, select the best lens and have a cup of coffee while you wait for it to get closer.

Olympus OM-D 75-300mm at 228mm and f6.3, 1/250 and ISO 1600.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A hat tip to the Air Force

KC-10 on approach to Luke AFB
Living as I do near Luke AFB, I get to see lots of F-16s in the pattern, as well as the occasional C-5, C-17 or KC-135.  Haven't seen many KC-10's, probably because the Air National Guard operates KC-135's out of Phoenix.  Today, however, I did manage to catch one on it's way in.  Since the fighter mafia won the PR wars in the Air Force, we see a lot of imagery of F-15's, F-16's and F-22's, but not much of the cargo and tanker force.  That's a pity, because those guys do a lot of heavy lifting.  Hat's off to you guys from an Army aviation type.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Ground Fire

Two of our crew chief trainees get familiar with the M-240H in its aircraft configuration.  Zeus, the company mascot supervises.
 We've started the training of a new group of crew chief hopefuls this year.  For the January drill we went to the Florence Military Reservation to do the primary introduction and ground fire portion of the machinegun training.  It's a lot easier to get familiar with these weapons on the ground before taking them out in a noisy, vibrating helicopter. 

Primary Marksmanship Instruction and safety brief
 Everyone has at least been exposed to the M-240 in basic training, but that tends to be a short session and is using the M-240B ground version.  Instruction is provided on the specifics of our weapons, how to strip them down and clean them, and how to convert them from aircraft to ground use.  The finer points of aerial gunnery will wait until our air training later this year.  This drill they engaged targets from 100 to 800 meters away.  Each person had 400 rounds for familiarization, and another 400 for the qualification exercise.

The Battalion Commander gets a turn on the line as well.
 Once we had all of our guys taken care of, we still had a little ammo left, so our assigned medic (the Army always has one assigned for a live fire exercise) got a chance to shoot, and the Battalion Commander also took a turn on the line.

A range day is one of the training sessions that everyone enjoys, even though there's a lot of work involved setting it up.  Our full time staff did a pretty good job on the prep work, so even with the minor issues that always pop up on this kind of thing everything went on schedule and good training was had.