News: Warhawks train new gunners prior to deployment
Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Lewis
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – More than 30 soldiers from the 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade qualified as UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter door gunners after a two-week certification course.
The certification course came prior to the 16th CAB, 7th Infantry Division deploying to Afghanistan to provide aerial support to half of the country.
Staff Sgt. Martin Strickrodt, the battalion’s senior standardization instructor, led the course and was assisted by fellow flight instructors, who are crew chiefs for the Black Hawks.
The soldiers participating in the training came from various subordinate units within the brigade and represented a range of military occupational specialties, most not specific to aviation.
“I volunteered to be a door gunner because I wanted to deploy with the unit and flying is fun to me,” said Sgt. Joe Coll, a food service specialist who previously worked in the 16th CAB dining facility.
The first week of the training was in a classroom setting and included familiarization of the aircraft and flight gear, introduction to Army Regulation 40-8, Temporary Flying Restrictions Due to Exogenous Factors, and basic operations of the M240-H machine gun.
“They [new door gunners] first have to become completely knowledgeable on all of the equipment that they are going to be dealing with because when they’re in the air, one person’s actions or commands affects the entire crew,” Strickrodt said.
Company A, B and C rotated its trainees between the Non-rated Crew Member Manned Module at the Mission Training Complex on Joint Base Lewis-McChord and ground qualification ranges for the M240-H.
The NCM3 is a flight simulator that allows pairs of soldiers to sit in a crew seat with a M240-H mounted in a frame equivalent to where they would sit in a Black Hawk. The specialized flight helmets soldiers wear have optics that allow a 360-degree virtual reality viewpoint.
“The simulator was as close to the real thing as it can get. Even when we were firing, the gun pulled and gave us resistance as the air would if we were actually flying,” Coll said.
Sean Kyle, NCM3 instructor from Computer Science Corporation, assisted flight instructors with running scenarios that allowed soldiers to practice commands for crew coordination, flight and aerial gunnery.
“The NCM3 lets the instructors run the door gunners through different scenarios without using an actual aircraft that requires scheduling, fuel and the use of pilots,” Strickrodt said. “At the simulator, the flight instructors can pick what scenario the soldier needs to work on and keep running them through it.”
In comparison to the ground range that allowed soldiers to practice repetition of firing and reloading, the mounted M240-H in the NCM3 was able to simulate wind resistance appropriate to the flight speed of the program. Soldiers learned how to adjust their aim from an elevated and mobile position.
By the end of the door gunner training, 2-158th AHB and 16th CAB increased their mission effectiveness by adding more than 30 door gunners who can be paired with crew chiefs, allowing more time available for maintenance operations.
“The addition of these door gunners gives crew chiefs more time between missions to do maintenance on the aircraft, which in turn prepares the aircraft to be ready and conduct more missions,” Strickrodt said.