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Pilots make the move to Search and Rescue, learn new techniques

By Lance Cpl. Kamran Sadaghiani | | July 28, 2005

Imagine a race car driver becoming a school bus driver. They would still be driving, but in different circumstances, just like when combat UH-1N Huey pilots join station search and rescue.

Huey pilots from the fleet who join the SAR  team — such as Capt. Bradley Walters, who recently joined SAR from Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. — need to train for their new and diverse mission of saving lives.

Walters, a native of Arlington, Texas, is one of many who chose to leave combat flying and join SAR. He said in the fleet, he was more focused on working with the door gunner and quickly dropping off troops in combat-oriented missions. For him, and those like him, SAR is a whole new world.

Flying combat operations is nothing like search and rescue missions, said Maj. Michael J. Peitz, SAR UH-1N Huey pilot and a SAR pilot instructor.

"A pilot who's getting (qualified) needs to know how to fly a different kind of regime than he (usually) flies in," said Peitz. "What he's got to do is hover at three hundred feet with very few visual references. In the fleet you hover for fast roping at one hundred feet. (That's) quick. Guys will just rappel down and then you just fly off. Here, with rappelling, you could hover for up to fifteen to twenty minutes in the same place."

The training course outline is much different from the fleet, agreed Staff Sgt. Robert McChesney, SAR HH-1 crew chief.

"(The fleet syllabus) encompasses all different types of missions," said McChesney, a Bakersfield, Calif., native. "Here we're concentrating on one specific mission, which is search and rescue."

When new pilots train for SAR qualification, they mostly focus on extraction techniques.

"The main effort of focus is rapelling guys down, hoisting guys up and short-hauling guys," said Peitz.

Short-hauling is when a crew member suspends from a cable from the helicopter and is flown around while hanging from the aircraft, Peitz explained.

Peitz said one of the most important lessons taught in training is for pilots and their crew to have a consistent communication standard when flying a mission. With steady communication and operating procedures, the pilot, corpsman and crew chief can accomplish their mission safely, because they all rely on each other.

Unlike the fleet, training in SAR covers communication more in depth, said McChesney. The crew chief continuously feeds the pilot information to move the aircraft over a small target area. This is important because in many cases a corpsman is lowered into a confined space to save a casualty.

"They have to be able to process what we say," said McChesney. "We're talking to them a whole lot more here than we do in the fleet just because of the small areas we work in, so the information flow is going to be greater and that in turn brings our relationship closer. He has to be able to know (from) the tone of my voice how serious the situation is."

Besides all the in-air, practical application training pilots receive, they must read a number of manuals regarding SAR related operating procedures and general information.

After training for approximately four months, on qualification day, the pilot flies one of several realistic practice scenarios available, such as an attempt to save a rescue dummy from a remote location with the assistance of the crew chief and the corpsman.

Walters is slated to finish his training within approximately a month and a half, when he will take the test to see if he is ready to join the six SAR pilots on station and continue the SAR mission of saving lives.

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