News: ‘Heavy Haulers’ and HST flex their muscle
Story by Lance Cpl. Lisa Tourtelot
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- Marines from Helicopter Support Team, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, partnered with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462, the “Heavy Haulers,” to practice external cargo lifts - the art of attaching large, heavy objects by hand to a hovering helicopter.
HMH-462 and the HST performed almost a dozen lifts between two helicopters and carried approximately 54,000 pounds of cargo during the training operation near Yuma, Ariz., Jan. 13.
The HST used 6,000 and 12,000-pound cement weights for practice on this day, but the team often rehearses with a number of materials, including an M777 howitzer and large metal pieces from demolished buildings and bridges.
This team returned in October from deployment to Afghanistan, where helicopters are the main mode of transportation for troops and cargo due to the rugged mountain terrain, explained Cpl. Tyler Lowe, a landing support specialist with the HST. There, they performed external lifts almost daily. They secured cargo ranging from food and water, to vehicles and ammunition, he added.
Lowe added that while they attached many of the cargo loads on military bases, the pilots and crew flew the cargo to hostile areas. The teams had to secure the cargo well enough to survive a tactical flight, but they had to make it easy to recover under fire.
External lifts are important because not all cargo, like large vehicles or artillery weapons, can fit safely inside an aircraft, Lowe explained. Additionally, the ability to quickly drop large cargo and leave while under enemy fire is a necessity.
The day’s training may have only been practice, but working underneath a hovering Super Stallion presents unique dangers.
HST Marines faced more than rotor wash while attempting to attach the cement weights; they used grounding rods to neutralize the 200,000 volts of static electricity generated by the helicopter before attaching cables to the cargo, all of this while the Super Stallion hovered overhead.
The HST Marines call their time within arm’s reach of a flying aircraft “going under.” They wear flak vests, Kevlar helmets, goggles, gloves and face masks to protect themselves from high-speed debris kicked up by roaring rotor wash.
When asked how they not only stand up to wind strong enough to send an adult flying like a ragdoll, but also how they operate so smoothly and efficiently, every one of them shrugs nonchalantly. They just lean forward and brace themselves, the team explains.
“We’ll do this all day, and probably all night,” said Lowe. These conditions are a daily experience for the HST Marines who use constant practice to make the complicated procedure second nature.
Pilots and crew chiefs face their own obstacles when performing external lifts.
CH-53E pilots depend heavily on their crew chiefs to tell them how to center the aircraft over the target, explained Capt. Clark Noble, a CH-53E pilot with HMH-462. Communication between the HST Marines, crew chiefs and pilots is crucial.
“Every time we come out here it’s a learning experience,” said Lowe. Lowe explained that the teams must learn to adapt to flying debris and different types of cargo while maintaining clear communication with each other and the crew chiefs.
Teams of five to 10 Marines work together to attach cargo. One Marine stands in front of the helicopter to help direct the pilots, while others ground the static electricity and attach cables from the helicopter to the equipment.
Helicopter support teams do more than attach external loads; they also set up terminals to process personnel and cargo for flights, as well as load ships and rail cars.
This HST is not scheduled to deploy again anytime soon, but they continue to train and rehearse with helicopter squadrons like the “Heavy Haulers” so they are ready to provide when an external lift is the only way to get Marines the supplies they need.