MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- A CH-46 Sea Knight circles above a group of Marines 2,000 feet below. A Mi-24D Hind flies in low towards the gathering ground troops. The Sea Knight flies in, protecting the Marines on the ground and an aerial fire fight begins.
This may seem like a scene from some action movie, but it’s actually the way Marines face a fluid and challenging adversary, in the Weapons and Tactics Instructors course here.
Doug Dunham, chief pilot, and Michael A. Nicholas, director of aviations, Vertol Systems Company, Inc., were contracted to play the enemy in selected missions of the WTI course here for the first time, and supplied a Russian Mi-24D Hind attack helicopter, to fly aggressively against Marine aviation and ground units involved in WTI.
The situation provided an ever changing, intelligent threat the Marines had to react to.
VSC provides aircraft equipment and services configured to their customer’s unique mission requirements.
“We bring a cost effective and realistic training aid and teach how to defend against a foreign rotary wing aircraft threat,” said Dunham.
Col. Robert F. Hedelund, commanding officer, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1, said the use of a foreign helicopter improves the quality of the training drastically.
“We could use a Cobra, or a Huey or another platform but there’s nothing like seeing the real, no kidding, enemy helicopter there,” Hedelund said.
Although training rarely offers all the challenges a real situation would, Dunham and Nicholas make every effort to offer instances where Marines must respond quickly and efficiently.
“My instructors come together and work up as real scenarios as possible,” said Hedelund.
“We provide a realistic threat -- something that’s out there and different from what they face in normal training,” said Dunham, a retired Army chief warrant officer of 31 years.
Nicholas, a retired Air Force master sergeant, is happy to be involved in the training.
“I’m glad to give something back,” he said. “Contribute to the war fighter.”
Dunham and Nicholas are both combat veterans and brought years of experience with them.
Dunham, who graduated flight school in 1969, has approximately 10,000 flight hours on multiple types of aircraft.
Nicholas finished flight school in 1983, and boasts around 4,000 flight hours and 24 years in the cockpit.
The Hind is also the first rotary wing aircraft used in WTI to have a Tactical Air Combat Training System attached, said Dunham.
A TACTS is a tracking device that relays real-time information on location, speed, and direction to those monitoring the training missions, said Dunham.
The opponent from VSC preformed admirably, according to Hedelund.
“I’ve gotten fantastic reviews from students,” he said. “We’ll certainly invite them back.”
As realistic as these missions are, safety is paramount.
The pilots and Marines training remain on a common radio frequency to avoid accidents and provide an open line of communication.
While no blank rounds were used in the training missions, Dunham arranges a situation for the Marines training and gives them something to respond to.
“Basically, I just get as big a stick as I can and stir up the pot,” said Dunham. “I’m the bad guy.”