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HMH-465 lifts F-7 in TRAP training

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/19/2004

Story by Staff Sgt. A.C. Mink

Al Asad, Iraq (May 19, 2004) -- Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and a helicopter support team from Combat Service Support Company 117, Combat Service Support Battalion 7, Combat Service Support Group 11, 1st Force Service Support Group, joined forces to show there's no limit to what they can deliver on the battlefield.

The Marines combined their skills to move a Chinese F-7 Airguard, May 14. The F-7, which was located in a high-traffic area here, was to be moved to an area of the air base where there was less chance of it being tampered with by curious personnel. The HMH-465 "Warhorses" lifted the dual-point-loaded jet and proved the air and ground crew's skill when it comes to Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel in a mission they could be called on to perform on the battlefield.

According to the Federation of American Scientists' Web site,, the F-7, built by the Chinese, is a less-expensive version of the Russian MiG-21.

The original Russian design, and subsequent versions from other countries, was extremely light and maneuverable, built for exceptional reliability and low cost of operation.

Lightweight is relative however, according to the site, the aircraft weighs more than 11,000 pounds.

"This validates our heavy-lift capabilities and only (CH-53E Super Stallions) do (the external portion of) Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel," said Maj. Adam Hyams, a pilot from Miami with HMH-465.

The "Warhorses" respond to TRAP calls to rescue coalition aircrew or large aircraft that have been downed by mechanical difficulties or enemy fire.

Getting a downed aircraft steady under the thundering Super Stallion's rotors isn't an easy task and requires every Marine on board to pitch in. This mission is only possible through exact coordination between pilots and enlisted crewmembers. It's a mission tailor-made for the Super Stallion, according to avionics technician and aerial observer for HMH-465, Sgt. Robert A. Torres .

"It's our job to back up the pilots to ensure the aircraft is correctly configured for the mission," said Torres, whose family is split between Monticello, Ga., and Galloway, Ohio.

"This aircraft was designed around a crew concept," agreed Cpl. Kenneth W. Shamblin, crewchief, HMH-465, and native of Cincinnati. "With that total crew concept, we work together to get it done."

Hyams and co-pilot, 1st Lt. Molly J. Woodruff, a 26-year-old Pocatello, Idaho native and 2000 Naval Academy graduate, said they rely on their enlisted crewmembers to make the lift.

The dual-point external mission requires the use of two separate hooks, and has to be perfectly choreographed between the aircrew and the HST Marines on the ground.

"Corporal (Shamblin) is our eyes and ears in a mission like this," Hyams explained. "We can't see the load. Dual-point externals are one of the most difficult tasks we do."

The mission actually began hours before the aircraft took off. The helicopter crew checked and re-checked equipment, fulfilling requirements to do a power check and also a hook check.

"This is what we're trained to do," Woodruff said. "We make sure it's done correctly, because safety is a priority."

The HST Marines worked feverishly on the ground preparing the load. Once slings and lines were in place, the massive helicopter moved in and hovered over the foreign jet.

This mission, although a delicate balancing act, isn't anything new to the air and ground crews. They often work together lifting large and bulky loads including vehicles, large shipping containers and artillery pieces.

Still, the pilots didn't treat the mission as routine.

As Hyams and Woodruff worked to carefully "shoot the load gently on the ground," Shamblin and Torres fed matching external cargo carrying slings through the bottom of the hellhole, an opening in the bottom of the CH-53E designed specifically for lifts. Underneath, the HST Marines scrambled to attach the dual-point system cables around the F-7.

The tension grew as the CH-53E powered up, tightening the lifting cables. The F-7 load jarred the helicopter as one of the cables slipped.

Hyams and Woodruff eased the load back to the ground as pilots and aircrews swapped directions over the communication system.

"Forward, left," the voices crackled over the intercoms. "Easy left, easy right...steady." They continued in a confusing litany that would be virtually incomprehensible to the untrained ear.

As soon as the jet was back on the ground and the helicopter rose to a safe level, the HST Marines rushed back in, making quick, precise adjustments to the cables.

The second go-around was successful. The HMH-465 crew, who recently adopted the nickname of San Diego's "Original West-Coast Choppers" inched the F-7 off the ground. Both birds were airborne.

Immediately, the wind, which was hard on the ground, multiplied as the helicopter gained altitude and increased its speed. The enlisted crewmembers watched through the hellhole as the cables beneath the aircraft began to twist, and the F-7 began to swing.

"(The F-7) started to rotate," Woodruff said. "But we were able to correct quickly."

The aircraft stabilized and the crew continued on to complete the mission.

The cause of the initial problem was the control surfaces, or "ailerons," on the Airguard were not pinned, causing an excessive rate of rotation, according to Hyams.

"Using the techniques and procedures in which we, as (Super Stallion) pilots, are trained, we were able to keep the load under control and transport it safely to its destination," said Hyams.

The F-7 was lowered to its new home in an external area of the air base, where it will be used for further training.

Dirty and tired the crew hasn't quite finished with their mission. Directly prior to departure, the crew received a "FRAG" - or fragmentary order to drop some infantry Marines in the desert, which tacked another leg on their mission. Look for parts 2 and 3 of this story titled "Ready for some Recon: HMH-465 drops them in the dirt" and "CSSC-117 HST Marines hook 'em up."

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