MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Flying over the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, the CH-46 Sea Knight seems like a smooth ride; suddenly, the horizon disappears and the crew in the back are sucked into their seats as the aircraft performs a 180-degree turn nearly in place.
The “Purple Foxes” of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 spent the afternoon practicing tactical formations, parade formations and aerial gun shoots over Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Nov. 15.
Tactical formations, or “tac form,” and parade formations are both flying practices utilizes multiple aircraft that require precise choreography and communication between the pilots and crew chiefs to ensure the aircraft are always in the correct locations.
“[Parade formations are] just like close-order drill. Learning how to safely maneuver the aircraft that close to another aircraft is a distinctly military skill,” said Lt. Col. Edward Jeep, the commanding officer of HMM-364. “It ties into safely getting into and out of a landing zone. It’s not just a dangerous gaggle of aircraft, but a disciplined flight.”
Tac form flying involves hard turns, sudden maneuvers and flying multiple aircraft far apart. These maneuvers are used to avoid enemy fire.
Parade form flying, however, uses tight formations at fixed distances to move large numbers of aircraft safely and efficiently.
“[Parade form] is a skill that atrophies. People don’t realize that they’re missing out on the finer points of flying,” explained Jeep.
In addition to formation flying, the pilots and crew chiefs practiced aerial gun shoots, in which the crew chiefs practice target shooting from a moving Sea Knight. Each Sea Knight was armed with two .50-caliber machine guns and one .240-caliber machine gun in the back.
“Primarily we’re troop transportation, but if we go out to a ‘hot’ landing zone we need to be able to protect ourselves,” said Lance Cpl. Jon Stutesman, a crew chief with HMM-364.
Parade form, tac form and aerial gun shoots all rely on constant communication between the crew chiefs and the pilots for success. The Purple Foxes have honed this skill since their inception shortly before the Vietnam War.
The Purple Foxes take pride in their history and practice today the successful tactics that gave them a reputation for bravery in Vietnam. The distinctive Purple Fox emblem on the tail rotor of their Sea Knights became synonymous with heroism and lives saved by a successful ride out of a bad situation.
The squadron is currently scheduled to deploy with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2012 and will continue perfecting these maneuvers.
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MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, CA, US
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