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  • Mar
  • 2016
Vipers train UH-1Y aircrews across San Diego county

By Lance Cpl. Justin Bowles, I Marine Expeditionary Force

SAN DIEGO -- Above the Pacific Ocean, a UH-1Y Venom flew toward the Southern California coast. It maneuvered through the winding peaks and valleys as pilots and aircrewmen from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 flew to their next landing zone.

The pilot called into the Direct Air Support Center for the next reconnaissance mission. After confirmation, the helicopter touched down at the landing zone and aircrewmen hopped out to assist refueling.

On Feb. 24, 2016, pilots with HMLA-169, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing performed reconnaissance and close air support training over the San Diego County area.

“Training like this builds confidence in the junior copilots and allows the senior pilots [the instructors] to maintain the tactics and procedures for the squadron, building the next generation of UH-1Y pilots,” said Capt. Ryan E. Williams, a UH-1Y pilot with HMLA-169 from Tallahassee, Florida.

In an effort to recreate an actual situation the aircrewmen may find themselves in, the evolution began with the senior pilot acting as a simulated joint terminal attack controller. They conducted a reconnaissance mission in which they gathered intelligence from a simulated enemy position, which may be useful for ground units to accomplish their mission.

“One of the great things about the UH-1Y is we are capable of putting the aircraft into austere landing conditions,” said 1st Lt. David W. Few, a UH-1Y Venom copilot with HMLA-169. “We practiced setting it down in small zones, higher elevation zones, rocky areas and confined areas, not just for the pilots, but for the crew chiefs in the back to give the whole crew the experience of landing in different conditions.”

Following the reconnaissance mission, the crew chiefs refueled and simulated troop insertion in a landing zone under fire.

“We can shut the aircraft down and turn the engines off [and then fuel the aircraft]. That’s called cold refueling. What we did today was hot refueling. We can leave the aircraft running while we fuel, getting us ready to get back in the fight,” said Few, a native of Tallahassee, Florida.

After inserting troops, the squadron provided a close air support mission, simulating fire superiority over the enemy.

“The younger and senior pilots work together on scenario-based missions to keep us younger pilots on our toes,” said Few. “Having to adapt to different scenarios is the way we learn best and get the most out of our training.”

The pilots fly the aircraft while the crew chiefs’ mission is to ride along and perform ground operations like refueling the helicopter, operating the aerial gun, or performing rescue operations. 

The crew chiefs are an outstanding asset to the aircraft and it is important they are incorporated to make mission success a team effort, according to Few.

In 2014, the squadron was awarded the John P. Giguere award for their performance and their safety practices in the preceding year. The squadron for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron of the year as well as the Pete Ross award for aviation safety.

Marines from HMLA-169 are scheduled to conduct joint training with the Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, in March.