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.