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Rockets, RPGs and machine gun fire challenge helicopter crews

Oct 29, 2009

By Sgt. Sarah B. Patterson, 479th FA Brigade

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Chinook helicopter pilots and crews had to deal with surface-to-air missiles, rocket propelled grenades, possible enemy personnel digging in an improvised explosive device, while they tried to complete their missions.

Fortunately, the dangers were simulated so the crews would get realistic training before they had to deal with just those situations in combat.

The Soldiers of Company B, 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, Fort Eustis, Va., completed aerial gunnery training at Fort Sill Oct. 16 to prepare for their deployment for overseas operations.

"We're basically trying to train the pilots and crew chiefs to always keep their eyes open and constantly do area scans," said Capt. Sean W. Barrett, the officer in charge of the first area of engagement.

The Named Area of Interest, or "hotspot," was set up in a triangle of civilians, dressed as insurgents, digging a hole for an improvised explosive device. They had a .50-caliber machine gun mounted to the back of a pickup truck. A second team had an RPG launcher on a hill top, and a third team had an M-240B machine gun on a ridge. The guns opened up with blank rounds as the aircraft neared the site.

"The intent is to have the aircraft come by and crew members should notice there are people digging an IED site, report that into higher [headquarters], receive enemy fire and take evasive actions," Barrett said. "We train the pilots and crew chiefs to always keep their eyes open and scan their areas of fire to make sure they're not getting shot at and endangering passengers or themselves. This helps to assist the ground elements."

Each set of pilots performed evasive maneuvers to evade the simulated gun fire and moved safely to a second area of engagement, which was a passenger pick-up point in the middle of a Fort Sill range.

This point was stocked full of Smokey Sam rockets, which simulate a surface-to-air missile.

"The Smokey Sams are fired directly toward the aircraft as they're flying to give them a sense of realism," said Air Force Master Sgt. Terry Abel, Smokey Sam operator for the Joint Forces Air Command - Indiana Detachment 1, of the Air National Guard. "The pilots and crew can actually see the Smokey Sam approach the aircraft, which allows them to pinpoint the direction of fire."

Avoiding the rockets wasn't the last training mission for the aviators. While the pilots performed their evasive maneuvers, they received a call that a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went down near their location. The Chinooks flew on to recover the crew.

As the pilots approached the area of the simulated crash site, they saw civilians running toward the area. Once the Chinooks reached the site, they received simulated RPG fire which they had to suppress. Once they finished their return fire, a radio call reported that the exercise was over, and they could return for an after action review.

"This event gives the pilots and crew chiefs a more realistic environment to train in because, so far, they have not been shot at," Barrett said. "This is a realistic, train-as-you-fight scenario because we gave them real grids and a realistic training package."

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