HMH-366 focuses on crew communication during heavy lift training

1 Sep 2014 | Cpl. J. R. Heins The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 366 practiced vertical lift capabilities and crew communication tactics during training near Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., Aug. 20.
The squadron's CH-53E Super Stallions transport heavy quantities of gear, like weapon systems and vehicles, quickly and efficiently in support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

Super Stallions are the only aircraft in the Marine Corps with this unique capability and are the largest military helicopter in the world. Pilots rely on crew members to act as their eyes and ears while approaching landing zones and extraction points.

"As pilots approach a load we lose sight of what we are extracting," said Capt. Genevieve Studer, a pilot with HMH-366. "The crew chiefs become our eyes and talk us down to hook up the load."

The Marines trained with a 6,000 pound steel I-beam. While exercising vertical lift capability, the pilots hover the helicopter above the ground and communicate with their crew as helicopter support teams work below to attach loads to the helicopter's rigging system.

"Before the exercise even starts, the crew runs operational power checks to ensure the aircraft has enough power to perform the lifts," said Studer. "Once we arrive at our landing zone, the crew chief and I hop out of the aircraft to inspect the load to ensure everything is safe and ready for lifting."

After securing a load and ensuring it is ready for flight, the pilots and crew communicate constantly. The crew maintains awareness of surrounding airspace and terrain to update the pilots while in flight.

"Situational awareness is the most important tool we have when we guide the pilots," said Sgt. Christopher Brantley, a crew chief instructor with the squadron. "What I imagine is that the pilots become blindfolded and it is my job to see everything that is happening around the aircraft and to use my voice to navigate them."

The most important thing for crew chiefs to know is the correct terminology. Each crew chief across the Marine Corps uses the same words when communicating with pilots so crew chiefs from different squadrons can accomplish missions with different pilots, said Brantley.