Training on the Flying Crane

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4th CAB Soldiers perfect the art of Chinook sling loads

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – With combat operations conducted in some of the most remote areas of the world, Aviation Soldiers are commonly tasked with getting heavy equipment into secluded areas for combat sustainment and resupply missions.

In Iraq, operations are no different. Ground troops need supplies to fight the bad guys, and it’s up to Soldiers from the Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Multi – National Division-Baghdad to get the troops their “beans and bullets” when a traditional supply convoy isn’t an option.

Stressing the importance of contingency supply operations, leaders from the “Iron Eagle” Brigade conducted a day-long training exercise in March aimed to provide Soldiers with the essential skills necessary for sling loading equipment and supplies with a CH-47F Chinook Cargo helicopter; the U.S. Army’s premiere heavy lift aircraft.

A CH 47F Chinook cargo helicopter from the 2nd Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4ID, Multi National Division Baghdad, lifts a humvee off the ground during a sling load certification course at Camp Taji.
A CH47F Chinook cargo helicopter from the 2nd Battalion, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, lifts a humvee off the ground during a sling load certification course at Camp Taji. The training was intended to provide Soldiers with the essential skills necessary for sling loading equipment and supplies with a Chinook; the U.S. Army’s premiere heavy lift aircraft.

“When you get handed a mission for a sling load, or to sling load a piece of equipment, it is important that you know what you’re doing, and to do it safely,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Farmer, standardization and sling load certification course instructor, 2nd Battalion, CAB.

“The intent behind today’s training was to familiarize the Soldiers with sling load doctrine, and to teach them the certified sling loading procedures for the M1151 Humvee,” Farmer explained, a native of Tucson, Ariz.

In order to successfully complete the course, the Soldiers had to learn how to properly inspect sling equipment and execute a four point sling; a sling loading technique that involves attaching four nylon sling legs to four different lifting points on the vehicle.

Then in teams of three, and after the sling sets were properly installed on the vehicle, the Soldiers hooked the opposite ends of the slings to the forward and aft hooks located on the hovering Chinook, all while balancing themselves on top of the humvee.

Iraq Soldiers from the Combat Aviation Brigade, 4ID, Multi National Division Baghdad, hook up a 10,500 pound, up armored humvee during a sling load certification course at Camp Taji.
IraqSoldiers from the Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, hook up a 10,500 pound, up-armored humvee during a sling load certification course at Camp Taji.

To an outsider the operation sounds simple, but if they factored in the 60 mile per hour wind gusts produced by the aircraft’s tandem, 4,868 horse power engine and rotor system, they would probably change their mind very quickly.

“The hardest part of the training is standing up,” said Spc. Michael Kelly, a Chinook mechanic assigned to Company B, 404th Aviation Support Battalion, from San Diego, who went through the training during the day.

“The wind was extremely strong when the Chinook was approaching the humvee,” he said. “The debris was pretty bad. There was a lot of dirt and gravel kicking up off the ground. Thank God for eye protection.”

Iraq Soldiers from the Combat Aviation Brigade, 4ID, Multi National Division Baghdad, check cable attachments on a humvee during a sling load certification training exercise at Camp Taji.
IraqSoldiers from the Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, check cable attachments on a humvee during a sling load certification training exercise at Camp Taji.

According to Kelly, Soldiers found the large helicopter somewhat intimidating; due to how close the pilots had to maneuver the aircraft to the vehicle. Pilots positioned the helicopter just a few feet above the Soldiers’ heads during the operation.

“This isn’t the first time that I have trained on this type of operation, so I’m pretty familiar with sling load training,” Kelly explained. “For some of the new guys, however, the first thing they want to do is duck down when they see how close the aircraft gets to them.”

“If a Soldier ducks down, or is afraid of the Chinook, they won’t be able to hook-up the cargo. This training teaches them pretty fast that they have to maintain their composure and they must be aggressive,” he said.

Sometimes called a “flying crane”, the Chinook can lift and transport enormous amounts of supply or equipment using 10,000 to 25,000-pound test cables attached to cargo hooks located on the belly of the helicopter.

The CH-47F, the newest model of cargo helicopter, adds efficiency to sling load operations thanks to the aircrafts newly upgraded avionics systems and controls. Specifically, the computer integrated position hold option which allows the pilots to maintain a stabilized hover with the push of a button.

This steady hover makes it easier for the Soldiers to hook the slings to the aircraft, and also expedites the entire operation, Farmer said.

“The F model is great for doing these types of operations, primarily because of all the new improvements in the cockpit. We move everything with those Chinooks. Our ability to sling load equipment and supplies, especially for contingency operations, gives the brigade flexibility for supply missions, and it’s important for our Soldiers to know how to properly execute the task when asked to do so.”

Farmer, one of the brigade’s to-go-to guys when it comes to anything and everything Chinook, stressed the importance of the training while mentioning his personal experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan where the sling load was the only option.

“I’ve taken part in hundreds of missions where sling loading equipment was necessary. The operation and the training are definitely applicable on today’s battlefield,” he said.

“A lot of times a traditional supply convoy can’t deliver supplies to a unit for whatever reason, and in that instance our Soldiers could use what they learned today to help deliver those much needed combat resources. That is the key; that is what this training is all about.”

By Sgt. Jason Dangel