USS MOUNT WHITNEY (LCC/JCC-20) -- Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron-461 personnel, here in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, participated in deck landing qualifications (DLQ) here April 29 further expanding the counter-terrorism capabilities of CJTF-HOA.
The "Iron Horse" crew, which is based out of Marine Corps Air Station New River, Jacksonville, N.C., flew their CH-53 Super Stallions from their new home at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti. They used the flight deck of the Mount Whitney to refresh their qualifications. The training also provided initial qualifications for other pilots who have never participated in this type of training, but who may be called on to do so in the war on terrorism here in the Horn of Africa region.
These qualifications are very important, because there is a world of difference between ship and ground landings for the pilots, according to Col. Joel P. Kane, CJTF-HOA air officer.
"Pilots must be current on this type of training," he said. "The differences between landing on the ground and dealing with the pitching and rolling on ship can mean the slightest mistake could be disastrous."
Hovering in a maritime environment in general is different, said Maj. Arch M. Mclellam, HMH-461 maintenance officer and CH-53E pilot.
"The movement of the ship and aircraft, smaller landing deck, antennas and railings requires more precision than landing on solid ground," said Mclellam, Tunkhannosk, Pa. native.
In addition, there are other things to be accounted for.
"Wind direction, the ship's speed, the helos' speed all have to be taken into consideration," said Kane, native of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. "Too much power coming in to land or not enough power on the take off could either mean you are going to bounce back up when trying to land or drop straight off the edge on take off. Lots of things have to be accounted for."
According to Maj. Sean M. Salene, HMH-461 director of safety and CH-53E pilot, this type of training lets them maintain flexibility due to the uncertainty of what missions lie ahead in the war against terrorism.
"We need this training to continue our reputation as Marines for going to every clime and place, "said Salene. "It is our amphibious nature and important to maintain our skills on and around ships. Being able to land on this ship or any coalition ship in the area is an essential skill."
Deck quals benefit not only the pilots and crew chiefs who could find themselves landing on any number of coalition ship decks in the region in support of a variety of operations, but also helps the ship's crew.
"It is important for us to continually train with the Navy because they need us, and we need them," said Salene, native of Edina, Minn. "We have a strong blue-green team out here. Almost every operation conducted nowadays is joint service."
The "Iron Horses" plan to continue honing their deck landing skills at every opportunity.
"As long as we are here in the area we will be conducting this training as it is available," said Mclellam. "Staying sharp out here means we will be sharp on precision approaches the next time we are deployed with a Marine Expeditionary Unit."
The addition of HMH-461 to CJTF-HOA operations extends the reach of counter-terrorism operations to all corners of the seven-country combined joint operations area.
Super Stallions are the nation's premiere long range, heavy lift assault support helicopter, according to Mclellam.
He said, "They are capable of aerial refueling which helps stretch their legs even further, capable of carrying both internal and external loads, and can be used in combat assault missions."