CAMP AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- A CH-46E Sea Knight with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit descends deep inside the Majarrah Canyon, cruising at an altitude far below the canyon’s ridge.
This is one of many maneuvers essential to the terrain-flight certification pilots with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, the MEU’s Aviation Combat Element, are undertaking in order to prepare future Marines for duty in Iraq.
“It [allows us] to teach new pilots how to effectively maneuver in this
environment,” said Capt. Adam McLendon, 31, an Asheville, N.C., native, and a CH-46E Sea Knight pilot with HMM-263. “[The training] also brings into account the effects of the sun, wind and power of the aircraft.”
The successful completion of this exercise will qualify pilots to instruct future members of HMM-263 in these tactics. One of the key tactics of this training are low-altitude maneuvers in the desert environment.
“The primary purpose is to deny the enemy acquisition with their weapon systems,” said McLendon “By using these techniques, you mask yourself below the terrain.”
Another aspect in terrain flying is the ability to perform a main-mount landing. This is a process in which the front of the aircraft hovers as the rear touches down onto an available surface.
“We use this [technique] when the terrain can’t provide enough room for the aircraft to make a complete landing,” said Capt. Doug Thumm, 28, a native of Havelock, N.C., and a CH-46E pilot with HMM-263. “[This method] is used for the tops of buildings or if the [environment] creates a plateau in an area we need to get troops to.”
The responsibility to train new pilots may seem like a daunting task, but to the Marines of HMM- 263, it’s a necessary step in ensuring the mission success of today, and tomorrow.
“We’re building the squadron for future deployments,” said Capt. Lance Henderson, 33, a CH-46E pilot with HMM-263 from Beaumont, Texas.
“Training can’t stop just because we’re in Iraq.”