OKINAWA, Japan --
As the aircraft’s nose comes down and the occupants feel a moment of weightlessness, the radio screeches to life, “Nose down … ball … rocket.”
A hollow “thunk” signals a Hellfire missile ejecting from its containing tube, as the rumble of the solid-fuel rocket roars by the door.
Two AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters and a UH-1Y Huey helicopter executed live-fire and simulated-fire attacks in various flight formations Jan. 16 above the Ie Shima Training Facility.
The aircraft and crew are with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, currently assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
The morning flights were simple weapons deployment systems familiarization tests, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Basan, a crew chief and weapons and tactics instructor with HMLA-367. The tests allowed the crews to practice remedial actions on the door guns and enabled the pilots to prepare for more advanced flying, which included assault formations and tactical positioning, executed later in the day.
“This first test was just the basics,” said Capt. Kyle S. Wilt, a pilot with HMLA-367. “I wanted my copilot to get used to controlling the aircraft during its harsh climbs, dives and turns. Our control of the aircraft directly affects the performance of our crew, and therefore our ability to provide quality air support to the ground troops.”
While the pilots familiarized themselves with the weather conditions and flight routes, the crew chiefs for the UH-1Y performed tasks similar to those of the pilots.
“I was pushing them (door gunner crew chiefs) hard,” said Basan. “They need to be fully proficient with these weapons. I had them performing random barrel swaps and also ammo can changes after every pass. They need to build the muscle memory for these simple tasks.”
As the sunlight faded, the crew attached night vision devices to their helmets and the helicopters, and with a fresh supply of ammunition they took to the air for more advanced flying.
The night flights were meant to simulate actual combat situations where one aircraft stays out of the attack pattern and directs the rest, according to Wilt. The pilot, known as the forward air controller airborne, is directly responsible for picking targets and relaying the information out to the aircraft in the holding pattern.
With one person controlling the airborne attack, pilots can offer a more concentrated effort to help support the war-fighters on the ground, according to Wilt.
“All of this is for a reason, we aren’t just up in the air doing our own thing,” said Wilt. “Our main mission is to provide close air support for ground troops, and our success directly affects them. This is what we do at our most basic level.”