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U.S. Army aviation team completes qualifications to support USNS Comfort 2019

By Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr. | Joint Task Force – Bravo Public Affairs | July 30, 2019

Punta Arena, Costa Rica — U.S. Army Helicopter pilots and crew members of Joint Task Force –Bravo completed qualifications July 18-26 to support an upcoming mission, off the coast of Punta Arenas, Costa Rica.

The UH-60 Blackhawk team assigned to 1st Battalion 228th Aviation Regiment (1-228th AVN) conducted deck-landing qualifications in preparation to support USNS Comfort 2019 in Costa Rica.

“The DLQs, that’s deck-landing qualifications, is to qualify us so we can land on the USNS Comfort,” said 1st Lt. Curtis Hilton, 1-228 AVN Alpha Company 1st Flight Platoon leader and Blackhawk pilot. “It is essential so we can do all of our passenger movements as well as sling-load operations to-and-from the Comfort.”

For the pilots and crew members who primarily land on the ground, landing on the deck of a sea vessel presents new variables for them to adjust to.

“Whenever you’re landing on a boat or ship, its more dynamic,” Hilton explained. “It’s a confined area, where as a plate on the ground. If you miss the plate you can just divert and land on the ground. On a ship if you miss the plate you’re going into the ocean. We are not even talking about wind and also the water themselves; if it’s choppy then the boat is going to move. So essentially, just imagine that the landing zone is moving. Wind is always a constant as well as the ocean current and waves.”

1st Lt. Jordan Carbol, 1-228 AVN Charlie Company executive officer and Blackhawk pilot, agrees that landing on deck of a ship is different for them but says that training beforehand helps prepare them for the qualifications and missions to come.

“About a week ago I did FDLPs, which is basically like pre-training for the actual DLQs, to prepare for the qualifications,” Carbol said. “So you practice the pattern that you’ll be flying off the ship on the concrete pads over at Soto Cano. That’s what we did leading up to it. For the actual qualifications, we got walked through the first one and Mr. Alex Berry and I flew through. Then for the rest of the four I accomplished the landing.”

Though the task may seem difficult both pilots agree that they have crew chiefs that help simplify the maneuver.

“Well the pad on the boat itself is about 80 feet above the water so that’s a little different, because if you’re looking out into the horizon you’re seeing the water move and the ship moving with it. So you are really relying on the crew chiefs in the back to guide,” Carbol said. “You rely on the crew chief quit a bit. They guide you in and let you know when you are over the ship, when your tail is over. They guide you over foot by foot, till your centered on the pad itself and make sure you are clear of obstacles and clear of the side of the deck.”

Hilton described the role of crew chiefs and being essential to landing the Blackhawk on the deck of a constantly moving vessel.

“Crew chiefs are vital. We don’t have eyes in the back of our head; we can only see what is in front of us,” Hilton said. “We can only see so much, but the crew chiefs are actually able to guide us in and give us that extended situational awareness.”

U.S. Army Sgt. Austin Winn, 1-228 AVN Alpha Company standardization instructor recognizes the key role he plays in landing the aircraft.

“When it comes to landing the aircraft on the ship the vital thing is making sure that everything is cleared out of the area and make sure we are actually inside the designated landing zone,” Winn said. “That way we won’t damage anything on the ship. The ship is moving at a slower rate and with them being out at sea, that further affecting the ship with more rocking motion.”

Completing this training was instrumental to the Winged Warriors role in supporting the USNS Comfort 2019 mission.

“The reason we need this qualification is for us to support Comfort in Costa Rica. We can now continuously land on the ship to pick up personnel, transport patients, get some sling loads, and take them to the shoreline for any type of replenishments they need for medical supplies or food,” Winn said.

Hilton, who is on his second mission supporting Comfort, recognizes the need for the rotary support and the justification for completing the training.

“In order to increase the operational capabilities of the Comfort, it needs rotary wing assets to get VIP officials to-and-from the Comfort as quick as possible and the transfer of critical care patients that need a stable platform. We also speed up the process of delivering supplies and equipment.”