Lance Cpl. Kimberly Crawford --
Eighteen helicopters from Marine Light- Attack Helicopter Squadron 167 took flight July 24 and flew in formation toward Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune’s G-10 Impact Area to conduct a close air support operation for training.
The 13 AH-1W “Super Cobras” and five UH-1N “Hueys” made history for HMLA- 167 when they completed the first close air support mission involving that many aircraft at one time, said Lt. Col. Michael E. Watkins, squadron commanding officer.
“Our primary reason was simply to challenge ourselves. We have a tremendous maintenance department and we thought it was important to prove to ourselves what we could do it, despite our operational tempo,” said Watkins.
All of the aircraft require countless man hours and hard work to put them in the sky, said Watkins. Rarely do the Marines putting in that hard work get to see the results of their efforts. The maintainers come in early, stay late, work in hot or cold conditions and keep putting mission-ready aircraft on the schedule without complaining, he added.
To allow the maintainers to see the fruits of their labor, they were transported to the impact area and allowed to watch the operation.
“Though we couldn't get all of our maintainers and support Marines out to the observation post, it was important to get as many as we could,” said Watkins. “It is one thing to work hard and see an aircraft take-off because of the work you do. It is something else to see that aircraft doing what it was designed to do -- shoot targets. Our Marines take great pride in the work that they do. It was high time to let them see the results of their work first hand.”
Flying in large formations is a skill that is not practiced as widely as it used to be, said Watkins. Normally, the squadron operates in sections and sometimes divisions, which are usually two to four aircraft in any given mission.
“Putting together a large flight of multiple divisions gives us the opportunity to practice flying in bigger elements,” said Watkins. “These are skills that must be practiced in order to maintain proficiency. No amount of classroom work or simulator time can replace this experience.”
All 18 aircraft went into the objective area and shot ordnance for the mission. The squadron practiced working out the timing and de-confliction concerns while still ensuring they destroyed the right targets at the right time, said Watkins.
Both the Huey and the Cobra have strengths and weaknesses. Putting them together compensates for the weaknesses and makes the team more effective, said Watkins. The tremendous sensor and off-axis gun capability of the Huey works well with the precision guided munitions capability and greater ordnance payload of the Cobra.
“In many of the environments that we fight in today, we find that mixing Cobras and Hueys together sometimes gives us greater flexibility in finding targets and killing them,” explained Watkins.
Although there may be friendly rivalry between the crews of the two skid helicopters, when it comes down to business, they have each other’s backs, said Cpl. Adrian C. Simmons, HMLA- 167 crew chief.
“We work well together,” said Capt. Ryan N. Harshman, HMLA- 167 Huey pilot."The (Cobra’s) primary purpose is attack. (The Huey) conducts five of the six functions of aviation and provides a good cover element to the Cobra during attacks.”
The six functions of Marine aviation are offensive air support, anti-air warfare, assault support, air reconnaissance, electronic warfare (which the Huey does not do) and control of aircraft and missiles, said Harshman.
This mission was a special moment for the squadron. A moment that they and many other observers on the ground will not soon forget, said Simmons.
“This isn’t something that we do a lot, it’s hard to have 18 aircraft in the sky flying in formation and keeping it together,” he added. “If one aircraft is out of place, it will cause a domino effect and mess up the rest.”
During the flight, the squadron decided to make a slight diversion from their normal route to fly over the Wounded Warrior Battalion-East barracks to show their appreciation for what they have done for the Corps, said Watkins.
“It was important for us to let the Marines at the Wounded Warrior Barracks know that we support them,” explained Watkins. “Though it wasn't much, I was hoping that hearing 18 skids flying overhead might provide a little motivation and let these special folks know that we are thinking about them.”
A lot of help is needed to pull off an operation of this magnitude. It takes cooperation and good communication between many different elements to make it such a successful occasion, said Watkins.
“I would like to publicly say thanks to some key units that made this all possible,” said Watkins. “MCAS New River Operations bent over backwards to make this all happen and happen safely. Two of our skid aircraft were provided by (Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264), who just returned from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. (U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command) provided the Joint Terminal Air Controllers and range coordination to allow us to shoot into G-10.”
The squadron achieved all three of the mission objectives, which were good flight discipline, communication discipline and getting the ordnance to the targets, said Harshman.
“The operation was a tremendous success,” said Watkins. “I could not be more proud of the Marines, sailors and airman of this squadron. This took a lot of teamwork and effort to pull off and they knocked it out of the park.”