Sunday, October 10, 2010

Home at Last

The flight from Taji to Kuwait

We're finally home! The trip from Taji started over three days as we had two helicopters leave for Kuwait each of the first two days then the last four left on the third day. (The last two stayed at Taji for shipment to their next locations.) On the way down we stopped at Al Kut for fuel and one last look at COB Delta and the off to Udari in Kuwait where we scrubbed the helicopters clean, recovered our unit equipment from them and went through the customs inspections. We had cleaned all of the helicopters pretty thoroughly before we left, so the inspection went well. It took several days for the battalion to get everyone processed through since the wash rack could only handle so many aircraft, but once we finished up we relocated to Camp Virginia to wait for out flight back to the States. Things really started slowing down at this point, as we ended up waiting for four days with nothing to do. Finally the flight to Ft Sill where we went through our demobilization process. This also took longer than expected, almost a week, but finally that too was over and it was time for the flight home.

For now I'm using the leave I've accrued over the last year and getting reacquainted with family and friends, and yes, doing all those chores that have been waiting for me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Various Pictures

Time has been flying by. Since we arrived at Taji we've been running a full load of missions. This makes for 12 to 14 hour days as the norm, so our weekly reset day is something that we all look forward to. The good news is that the end is now in sight... Next week the unit that is replacing us arrives. Once they get settled in we'll be releasing our missions to them. We've already started packing some of the equipment we don't expect to need anymore.

One of the amusing things about flying around Iraq is that as desolate as most of it looks, the soccer fields are going to be well kept. This particular field is in Ramadi. For the historically minded back in April of 2004 a soccer game at this field turned into a firefight. The was in the operating area for the Marines at the time, and Ramadi became a well known name in the media.

In downtown Baghdad this tower is one of the landmarks for navigation. The bombed out building behind it used to be a Baath Party building.

If you look at the right side of the tower you can see a noose hanging from it. (You may need to click on the picture to get a better view.) It seems the Baath party officials enjoyed hanging dissenters from the tower as something of a public message. Someone made the decision to leave the noose there as a reminder of what's not happening in Iraq these days.

This is the Euphrates River in the Anbar Province. They make good use of irrigation these days, you can see the date palms that are one of the local cash crops. The only thing that surprises me is that both the Euphrates and Tigres rivers are much smaller that I expected. I thought they would be on par with the Mississippi given their historical significance.

This is Willard the rat. He introduced himself by chewing into a bag of coffee when we first arrived, and proved difficult to catch. We found he was getting in our shop through the electrical penetration for the air conditioner. Here he was caught on camera scoping out a loaf of bread. It turns out the a rat trap baited with peanut butter was too much temptation for him. Willard is, alas, no more...

Finally, on occasion we still climb up where it's nice and cool. Here the altimeter shows 10,000 feet, which is actually pretty high for a helicopter. Now that the days are beginning to get shorter we don't need to climb so high.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Now you see us...

Al Kut fly by

Flexibility is always a useful trait in the military. Due to operational requirements we've moved from Al Kut in southern Iraq to the central part of the country, where we're flying with our regular Army counterparts. It's been a busy few weeks - we ran our mission sets right up to the time we left the southern command, and started working with central within three days. Unlike FOB Delta where it was just us and the Medivac birds, here we have Blackhawks, Chinooks, Apaches, and Kiowa Warriors here along with Iraqi UH-1s, OH-58's and Mi-17s.

Moving in

We're only now getting settled into our new routine. After setting up our working area we've been working some pretty long days between learning how our parent organization operates, flying, maintaining the helicopters and moving from the transient quarters we were initially put in to our "permanent" CHUs.

A statement

Working with the regular Army is interesting. The guys we're with have been absolutely outstanding in helping us get up to speed. The maintenance people supporting us are top notch and have really been helping us keep flying. They were a little startled that we're flying helicopters that are older than most of the guys working on them. (Our oldest birds were built in 1979.) The days of there being any confidence issues between the Army and the National Guard appear to be history. These guys are treating us as part of the family and while we're changing some of our practices to align with theirs, they've shown no hesitation in adopting some our our practices as well.

The nice part of town

Flying in the central part of Iraq we now see quite a bit of the former Green Zone and move a fair number of VIPs around, most recently Senators McCain and Lieberman. Even though he knew we were an Arizona guard unit McCain didn't even say hello. I guess he's not involved in a hotly contested campaign back home, or he doesn't realize we'll be back in time to vote for Hayworth.

Iraqi Mi-17's

I've been following with interest the mild uproar over US aid money being used to buy Mi-17's for Iraq. I really don't see the issue unless it's that Sikorsky and Boeing are mad at not getting a piece of that pie. The Russians know how to make helicopters and the 17 is a good bird for medium to heavy lift. Relatively cheap, simple, easy to maintain and the Iraqi's have experience in working on them. Iraq has also got Huey's and OH-58's so it's not like they're not using American equipment. Boeing and Sikorsky have successful modern helicopter lines so they're not hurting for market. Bell seems to think that the 1960's was the epitome of helicopter development so they probably needed the bailout more than the others.

The bad part of town

Belleau Wood... Iwo JIma... Chosin... Hue... Famous names in Marine Corps history. There's another one that's been added to the list - Fallujah. Doesn't look like much from the air, does it? Pretty much in the middle of nowhere between Bagdad and Ramadi in the Anbar province. Here was where the Marines fought the first and second battles of Fallujah. Here is where one of the best quotes of the war was made by General Mattis to Iraqi tribal leaders, "I come in peace, I didn't bring artillery. But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I'll kill you all." The Iraqi military was defeated in Bagdad within days of the start of hostilities, but if you had to pick a place where the war against Al Quaida was won the Anbar province would likely be it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Random Thoughts

I've been pretty bad about posting lately, mostly because our daily routine is just that - routine. So I'm just going to toss a couple of random thoughts out there. First is the question, "How hot is it?" In short, we don't know. The thermometer in the picture is one of our "Free Air Temperature" indicators in the helicopter, and as you can see it's pegged. So the temperature at the time of the picture was at least 122º F. The good news is that while the temperature stays pretty constant up to around 3000 feet, when we go up to 6500 feet or so it cools of considerably. Guess where we spend as much time as possible in between stops?

This picture is of our hazardous waste collection point, where we collect oil and hydraulic fluid waste to avoid contaminating the crude oil pretty much seeping out of the ground with refined oil. Yes, that is a bird nest complete with eggs built on the drain screen. No one said birds are particularly bright. This one at least attempted a nest. One morning we preflighted a helicopter to find a bird egg frying on the stabilator. The bird apparently laid the egg while roosting on the tail rotor. This strategy would be referred to as "epic fail."

Flying conditions vary - we are normally restricted by visibility. This picture shows what the weather guessers refer to as "2 miles visibility" as viewed from 500 feet. No, we weren't following the canal, it just happened to be going the same direction we were. Really. We can fly in considerably less, but don't unless there's a good reason. Since the tactical situation here is pretty calm these days, we seldom need to go out in worse weather.

This would be worse weather. You'll notice that the helicopters are sitting on the ground.

Here we have the local crash crew practicing. We provide them a helicopter and crew for training purposes on a regular basis. I'm not sure who's more uncomfortable in all their gear - them or us.

Overall things are going well with the exception of power and internet issues. The main generator that powers our CHUs has been failing pretty much daily for the last couple weeks, although it may have finally fried itself since I saw a crane being positioned out there earlier today (we're on the back up generator.) Our internet connection keeps failing for no apparent reason - I've had one power failure and about four internet failures trying to get this written and posted. That being the case I think I'll hit the Publish button now...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Donald Layman
Darrel Kasson
Charles Browning
Richard Peris

Monday, April 26, 2010

View from Angels One

We changed internet providers... It took me a while to figure out how to log into my blog. Stupid geographically aware servers.

For reasons known only to the military altitude is referred to as angels for each thousand feet and cherubs for each hundred feet. Flying at 500 feet would be cherubs 5. Angels One is one thousand feet. I guess if we just said it plainly it wouldn't be cool or something.

Cabin class in the UH-60

Getting a ride in a Blackhawk can be a lot of fun, but it can also be something of a shock to a newcomer. Being a military transport, our purpose is to get people and cargo from one place to another quickly and safely. Comfort on the other hand, is optional. In a perfect world everyone would bring themselves and one bag of a size that they don't mind putting on their lap for the duration of the flight. Sometimes people will travel with Tuff Bins or duffle bags and schedule those so we expect them and can make room for them. Most times however, they just show up to the helicopter with a full size ruck sack, a duffle bag and a "carry on" bag. Guess where they go? Yep, in the lap. There have been some seriously shoe horned passengers in our birds.

The next gotcha is that not all seats in the helicopter are created equal. Fully configured we have four forward facing seats in the back of the cargo compartment, four rear facing seats in the middle of the compartment and three front facing seats forward of them. For some reason people seem to want to get in the rear most right side front facing seat. They generally do this only once in the summer season when we have the cargo windows out for ventilation. Among the crews this is referred to as "the hurricane seat."
The hurricane seat

For reasons known only to Sikorsky, more wind blows into the helicopter on the right side than the left. Our pilots swear they're flying in trim, but whatever... the hurricane seat is pretty much like sitting outside in a 150 mph wind. If you've ever seen the films of Col. John Stapp riding the rocket sled with his face flapping in the wind you'll have a pretty good idea of what these guys look like. They don't usually fight to get in that seat again.
Model on a morale visit. The band member in the hurricane seat behind her moved to another seat the next leg.

Once in a while we get a break though, like last week when the band "Brokedown Cadillac" and several of the Hooters restaurant calender girls paid visits to several of the smaller FOBs in the area. The helicopter smelled nice for a change.
A view from angels one

Flying in the central Iraq region what we see most is irrigation, farming and cattle in the form of sheep. A little further south in the marshlands (bet you didn't know there's a large swamp here) water buffalo seem to be the main livestock, although camels are in evidence in the southern desert.

I see electric light over most of the country, provided by local generators in isolated areas, but by a decent grid in the more populated areas. Flying at night I've only noticed a couple of power outages - the most recent due to a lightning strike taking out a transformer. Pretty impressive when you're wearing night vision goggles, by the way. The local power authority seems to be able to get the lights back on in an hour or so on the average.

The roads are open and while military convoys are still in evidence, commercial and local traffic seems to be most prevalent. On religious holidays you see lots of people congregating around the local mosques.

The kids wave at us when we fly by.

There's quite a bit of building going on, although the signs are a little different than in the states. The brick factories seem to be going all the time, and I can see new houses being laid out in the outskirts of Bagdad.

We didn't provide security for the recent elections here - we supported the Iraqi police and Army in case they needed us. They didn't, and did a fine job on their own. Our MP unit here has been providing backup for the local Iraqi forces who have been running the show on their own.

The Iraqi soldiers here smile and wave at us as well.

Is Iraq going to become a democracy in the sense that Americans experience? I seriously doubt it, but I think the have the tools in place now to be able to deal with the different factions in the country with a minimum of violence. Whether they choose to continue to use these tools will be up to the Iraqi people.
I don't think we (the United States) are in Iraq for oil.
I don't thing we needed to prove Saddam had a chemical weapons program - he had already used them. We knew he had the capability.
I don't think he had the ability to cause us much more trouble than the likes of Khadafi of Libya. After all, when we know your address, you have to be careful how far you twist the dragon's tail.
But Saddam had demonstrated the will and ability to war on his neighbors twice. Eight years worth of the Iranian war and the 1991 invasion of Kuwait.
I suspect removing him from power is the price we had to pay for Arab support as we deal with the Taliban. (My opinion only - reflects no unofficial or official opinions of anyone else...)
Once we did that, we couldn't leave with the country's infrastructure destroyed, we had to stay and help put a system in place to make it possible for Iraq to stand on its own. I think we've succeeded in that, but it will be up to the Iraqis to finish it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Emergency Leave

Julie L. (Rossi) Ryan

Julie L. (Rossi) Ryan went to her final rest into the loving arms of her Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ on this the 24th day of February. Her parents Carmine and Pasquale Rossi, brother Mario Rossi, and sisters Judy Mauro, Teresa Peris and Bertha Williams predeceased her.

Her loving husband Edward John Ryan, Jr., precious son and daughter-in-law Philip and Karen Ryan, sisters Mary O’Malley, Anita Ciacelli and brother-in-law Armand Ciacelli, brother Dominic Rossi and sister-in-law Anne Rossi survive her. She also leaves her loving godmother Helen Banko, special nieces and nephew Diane Peris, Sharon Jacobs, Carol and Tom Fuller, Godsons Christian Peris, Patrick Jacobs and Justin Groats. Her special cousins Aldo and Libra Ferraccoli and family also survive her. Julie leaves many longtime friends including Fr. Edward Hays, Lucy Lovertich, Ricky Bentley, Ruth Loecher, Joyce Wurth and Chuck Schoenberger.

Julie was born in Endicott February 22, 1934 and graduated from Vestal High School in 1952. She enlisted in the US Air Force during the Korean Conflict and qualified as an airborne navigation repairman at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. She then transferred to Chanute AFB, Illinois where she maintained and repaired airborne navigation systems on TB-25 bombers. In December 1954 Julie married fellow Air Force member Ed. Their son Philip was born a year later in the base hospital. The trio traveled together until 1974 when Phil enlisted in the US Navy and Ed retired from the Air Force. During the early 1970’s she was licensed in cosmetology at the operator, manager, and owner levels in three different States. However, teaching motivated her most and she worked with Walter Starr for several years at his academies in Washington DC, Maryland and Virginia. During the 1980s and 1990s Julie was a leader in the Women’s Cursillo Movement in Kansas City, Kansas and Jackson, Mississippi.


The Red Cross notification arrived 0315 Bagdad time on Thursday the 18th, my company commander was waking me up by 0330. While I called home and tried to figure out what to do next, S1 was working on the emergency leave packet and the Company was adding a leg to the morning mission to get me to Tallil. By 0930 we were airborne with paperwork in hand. At the Tallil pax terminal, our sister company First Sergeant and one of our admin guys met me with some updated paperwork to make sure I would be able to catch the next Air Force C-130 to Kuwait. An hour later, I did. In Kuwait my travel arrangements were made and I was bussed to Kuwait International Airport for a KLM flight to Amsterdam, connecting to a Delta flight to Detroit and finally on to Binghamton, New York where I arrived at 1530 Friday. Crossing 8 timezones made Friday a 32 hour day. I don't recommend it.

I didn't expect Mom to still be with us when I got there, as the prognosis was hours, maybe a day. She was still with us, and while she spent most of her time semi conscious, she did recognize me. She stayed with us till around 7:30 pm the 24th. We didn't get to talk, but I did sit with her, along with my dad and wife.

She was diagnosed with kidney cancer eight years ago. After having a kidney removed and receiving radiation and chemotherapy she recovered, and moved with my dad to her hometown of Endicott, NY. She stayed active with family and church and enjoyed being back home. Last year after suffering from chronic back pain she was diagnosed with cancer again, this time type 4 bone cancer. After a successful back surgery to remove the tumor attached to her spine she again receive radiation treatments but elected to forgo the chemo. Her final illness was mercifully short, and she fought it till the very end.

Rest well, Mom. You're in my heart.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


Warning: This post contains boring technical helicopter stuff. Lots of it...

A view in the tent. The helicopter in the background is the one we rigged.

Flying is a big part of being a crew chief and a lot of fun, but we also work on the helicopters. Here in Al Kut we have both a flight company and a maintenance company. The flight company takes care of much of the routine day to day repairs and inspections while more involved work generally goes to the maintenance guys. On occasion we also get involve is some of the more in depth stuff. Earlier this month I got to work with a couple other repairers on what's called a complete rig. This is the process where all of the flight controls are set up so they operate correctly and have the right amount of travel. It's not something that gets done frequently, only after major work has been done on the aircraft or after flight control components are replaced.

A helicopter has three basic controls - the cyclic, which tilts the main rotor disk in the direction you want to fly, a collective that controls how much of a bite into the air the main rotor has, and the pedals which control the tail rotor to keep the helicopter pointing in the direction you want it to point. These controls transmit the pilots wishes to the main and tail rotor through an impressive number of push-pull tubes, fancy hinges called bellcranks and cables. Because a Blackhawk is a fairly heavy helicopter that requires a lot of force to control it there are also hydraulic systems that provide the muscle to actually move everything.

When rigging the controls the first step is called a "dry rig." This is done with all power off and consists of setting all the various adjustments to a position that will allow you to adjust them in either direction as necessary. Starting from the front the pilot and copilot controls are pinned into reference positions set up by the factory. The connections to the top of the helicopter are adjusted and connected to the first set of hydraulic servos. This first set does much the same thing as power steering in a car - they make it easier to move the controls and reduce some of the feedback to the pilot. Like power steering if these servos fail or are turned off it makes flying the helicopter more work, but doesn't really interfere with flying. The output of these servos connect to the "mechanical mixing unit." This is a nifty little collection of levers and cams that the good people at Sikorsky put into the Blackhawk to make it easier to fly by taking a single input the pilot puts in and coordinating all of the controls to achive the desired result. Yeah, it's magic. The mixer is then connected to the "primary servos" which are the muscle I referred to earlier.

The hydraulic deck where most of the linkages we adjust are. The control rods come up through the deck near the top of the photo, back through the "power steering", into the mixer under the diagonal striped work platform to the primary servos at the bottom. The three gold things are hydraulic pumps, the white thing at lower left is one of the generators and the plumbing at the top right it the cabin heater ducting.

Once all of this is connected and adjusted to neutral settings the primary servos are hooked up to the rotor and hydraulic power is turned on. This is the start of the next part of the process, called the "wet rig." By using certain combinations of the alignment pins and measuring the angle of the rotor blades at different positions we make adjustments to get the right blade setting for a specific control input. This requires taking a lot of measurements and rotating the blades by hand to the correct position for each measurement. It took most of a day with three of us working on it to get this part done.

Adjusting the tension on the cables to the tail rotor

When the main rotor adjustments are completed all of the the controls and linkages up to that point are pinned in the proper test positions and the cables and linkages to the tail rotor are adjusted using the same techniques. Finally all of the adjustment points are safety wired or cotter pinned to make sure nothing changes over time. The entire process took us about three days, which is actually a little on the fast side since we had very few difficulties along the way. Depending on the particular helicopter this is not always the case.

Adjusting one of the push pull tubes on the tail rotor gearbox. The reflection on the tail rotor is just reflective tape for the camera we install to balance the tail rotor.

We then started on the track and balance of the rotor systems. The main and tail rotors are balanced just like the wheels on a car, but rather than using lead weights special washers are bolted on to the hub at certain locations. There is a test set that measure the vibrations at the rotors and computes how much weight needs to be added to each location. Once these are within limits the main rotor is "tracked," which means adjusted so the blades rotate in the same plane rather than flapping all over the place. For this we start with ground runs, then move on to test flights. In our case it took 4 test flights and adjustments to go from a rather bone rattling gallop to nice smooth flight at various airspeeds. OK, as smooth as helicopters get, anyways...