Maxwell crash, rescue team learns Chinook operations

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The season's bitter wind did nothing to deter a joint helicopter training exercise here on Jan. 15 with Airmen from Maxwell Air Force Base and soldiers from Fort Rucker, Ala.

That day, a multi-service team came together to provide egress and safety procedures training for the Maxwell AFB Fire Department crash and rescue team, and to conduct sling load operations on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

The Chinook came from B Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment at Fort Rucker. Company commander Capt. Roger Griffin Jr. also served as the air mission commander for the exercise.

The B Shift of the base fire department received a 30-minute crash and rescue briefing from Army Staff Sgt. Kelly O'Reilly, a flight engineer in B Company, on how to egress, or remove, passengers and crew in the event of an accident. The remainder of the afternoon, the team worked together to have the CH-47 Chinook sling load an 8,000-pound Type V pallet platform for three 12-minute, cross-country flights and three more "elevator drills," which lifts the load into the air, lowers it and releases it.

Robert Wimes, crew chief of B-shift with the base fire department, said the egress training was very good for his shift.

"It was a chance for us to train with aircraft that are less common at Maxwell AFB, and learn the egress and the safety procedures," he said. "For our rescue crews to go up to the aircraft, it was a valuable opportunity."

Mr. Wimes said 15 members from his shift walked both inside and outside the aircraft. The crew members were highly knowledgeable and explained all of the different aspects of the aircraft.

"The biggest thing for us is the pitch of the blades and learning the best way to approach the aircraft," Mr. Wimes said. "Each member of my crew went up to the cockpit and went through emergency shutdown procedures - learning which switches and buttons were involved. This is one of the largest helicopters in the military inventory, and it's actually pretty exciting. Having this on a recurring basis is good training."

After giving his egress class, Sergeant O'Reilly remarked how much he liked giving a class to the crash/rescue team on extrication of the pilots and crew from the CH-47.

"As our unit's safety officer, I enjoy being a teacher and giving someone training that they are going to need and that they didn't have before," he said.

The ground crew consisted of Airmen from the 25th Aerial Port Squadron of the 908th Airlift Wing; the LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education; and the Headquarters Air University Education Logistics and Communications directorate.

For the exercise, specially trained Airmen were positioned at landing zone Alpha on Maxwell AFB. The Airmen were organized into ground crews that received the equipment attached to the cargo hooks of the helicopter, and then attached a new sling load to be flown cross country.

By day's end, three sling load lifts and three "elevator" drills had moved the equivalent of 48,000 pounds of material.

"I really enjoyed it," Sergeant O'Reilly said. "It was a positive change in the training environment. We don't often have the opportunity to work with a ground crew to hook up loads at the school. This helps establish a positive relationship between our two services. As well, the exercise allowed us to take our co-pilot up to the Maxwell AFB area for his local orientation."

He said the load flew very well and added that it was rigged properly and banded as it would have been at the Air Assault School for sling load operations.

"The ground crew was great," Sergeant O'Reilly said. "They did everything by the book. They gave proper hand and arm signals, hooked the load and moved to the assigned location."

Staff Sgt. Erik Stant, a computer programmer at Air University headquarters, said it was a good feeling knowing that he has tactical support skills beyond his AFSC which can be used in a deployed situation.

"Even though I have done this before, it's still not routine - each time is a little different, but it's still satisfying," he said.

Maj. Jimmy Gatch, course director at the LeMay Center, was the "hookup man" for one of the CH-47 exercises. He said he felt well prepared after December's UH-60 Black Hawk exercise.

"This exercise was a good foundation," he said. "I just wish it would have lasted a little longer. It will be good to forge some relationships and get these guys back out here and have some valuable training not just for us, but for them as well."