Photo Information

Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Mulcahy, a combat marksmanship trainer instructor with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303, fires an M134 GAU-17 Minigun during an aerial gunnery shoot at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Dec. 17. Marines with HMLAT-303 flew a formation flight and conducted an aerial gunnery to shoot give students the opportunity to refine basic skills needed to operate in the Fleet Marine Force.

Photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens

Students take wheel: HMLAT-303 Marines train pilots, crew chiefs

23 Dec 2015 | Sgt. Lillian Stephens 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303 conducted a formation flight, confined area landings and an aerial gunnery shoot at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Dec 17.

Marines with HMLAT-303 flew two UH-1Y Hueys to training areas at Camp Pendleton, requiring the students to communicate effectively and relay information about aircraft proximity and weapon commands.

According to Capt. Peter Marbach, a Huey pilot instructor, an airframes officer -in -charge with HMLAT-303 and a Stafford, Virginia native, the squadron trains pilots and crew chiefs with the basic skills needed to graduate and join the Fleet Marine Force. 

“We’re strictly a training squadron,” said Marbach. “This is their intro on how to do these maneuvers in this specific aircraft before they move down the line into the other squadrons, where they will be operating more tactically.”

These flights enabled the students to gain experience in their military occupational specialties with an instructor’s supervision.

“We trained on different types of turns and maneuvers that we would have to use in a combat situation,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Rios, a crew chief student with HMLAT-303 and a Los Angeles native. “The gun run was just practice in case we run into a combat situation we’d be more effective with the weapons.”

The pilots have a limited field of vision in the cockpit and the crew chiefs on either side of the helicopter act as eyes, communicating the proximity and direction of any visible aircraft, said Rios.
“[I have] to make sure that the pilots always know everything that they can’t see,” said Rios, “continuously talk to them about where they’re at and … guide them down to the ground and to make sure that we can land in an area that’s clear and safe for the helicopter.”

According to Marbach, it’s also important for pilots to fly the aircraft in a way that enables the aircraft’s gunner to shoot targets.

“Putting the aircraft into position allows the gun to shoot the target inside the limitations we have,” said Marbach. “At some point you get cut off just because the limits of the gun won’t allow you. Flying in formation or flying the correct profiles allows us to put the aircraft in a way that allows the gunners to actually shoot the target.”

Rios said the formation flight, section CALs and gun shoot was only one of the several flights he would have to complete before graduating from the squadron.

“We have about 16 different types of training flights and each one involves an ‘x,’” said Rios. “An ‘x’ for that flight that means you passed your flight and you’re qualified to do it.”

All this training equips the students with basic knowledge, skills and experience required for them to succeed in other helicopter squadrons, said Marbach.

“A solid foundation with the basics allows them to do more advanced stuff in the fleet,” said Marbach. “When they’re flying, they can focus more on the advanced tactics rather than the basics so that when they get out in the fleet, they’re better prepared.”