Post Written By Ensign Lindsay Cook
So far, I’ve spent time in a HC-130 and a MH-60T and received a better understanding of what it’s like to be at an air station. I’ve learned a little bit about what each aircraft does and what missions it executes.
Here are some of the details:
On an HC-130 there are two pilots and anywhere from two-five crewmembers. The pilots are responsible for flying the plane (obvious, I know) but with the advance technology that is developing in new aircraft, the plane pretty much flys itself. However, the crew on a HC-130 is responsible for measuring how much the cargo weights, securing cargo with chains, and communication with the towers. HC-130s are primarily used for SAR (search and rescue) cases, surveillance and drug interdiction, and it is used to transport cargo. These planes can last twelve or so hours in flight and are utilized for long-range missions. While preparing to fly for the first time on a HC-130, one of the pilots told me that they actually transported a H-65 “Dolphin” helicopter in a HC-130. I was certainly impressed.
While flying, two pilots and a minimum of one crewmember support the MH-60T helicopter. The crewmembers are responsible for inspecting the aircraft for safety measures and they conduct an inspection of the aircraft prior to each flight. On the flight there is always BA (basic aircrew) qualified member who often fulfills the role of the flight mechanic (this individual is BA qualified). This helicopter platform is used for SAR and drug interdictions. To give you an idea of how long it can fly, it’ll last about seven hours in the air. An interesting fact that is unique to Air Station Elizabeth City is it holds the record for the largest group to ever fit in an MH-60. During a SAR case a crew from Air Station Elizabeth City recovered and flew with 26 (that’s right…26) people in the helicopter. Needless to say, it was probably a very tight and uncomfortable fit.
Aside from the aircraft, I’ve become more educated about what it’s like to be an airman. It all starts when someone wants to become part of the aviation rate (I’m not referring to pilots). When one decided that they want to be an AMT (aviation machinist technician), AET (aviation electronics technician), or AST (aviation survival technician or as they are most commonly referred to, rescue swimmers) they receive a syllabus at an air station. During the time spent at the Air Station (which is about four months total) each person becomes familiar with aviation technology and rotate through the different aviation shops. Upon completion of the syllabus, the individual gets orders to an “A” school where they will learn about their desired rate/specialty. All of the aviation “A” schools are actually located on the base at Elizabeth City. After completion of “A” school, an individual receives orders to an Air Station, maybe even Air Station Elizabeth City. Once a Petty Officer (someone with a designated rate/specialty) they are put into duty rotation.
An air station operates on a twenty-four hour basis. It never sleeps. There are night crews and day crews that constantly maintain aircraft and pilots who are on duty. Each aircraft requires hours of maintenance for every hour it’s in the air.
I had the opportunity to speak with Senior Chief Reeves, who is one of eight ASTSC (Aviation Survival Technician Senior Chief) about what its like to be an AST. He informed me that the ASMs (Aviation Survival Men, the previous name for AST) were originally trained by the U.S Navy. The training at this time was focused on recovering pilots in the water who wore parachutes. But, the CG eventually started its own training program because the rescues didn’t often involve pilots wearing parachutes. This is the birth of the CG’s rescue swimmer program. Overtime, the program has progressed and our AST’s are the best at what they do! Currently the rate at which people drop from the AST program is 50%. That’s pretty high. The reason being is, the job is physically and mentally challenging and advancement is not a fast process. Those in this rate love what they do and do it faithfully. I’m pretty sure its not for the tame at heart, I know I wouldn’t be able to do it.
I hope you may have learned something new about the CG and have a greater appreciation for the CG’s aviation community. I know I do!
-ENS Lindsay Cook