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.