US Air Force, December 27, 2020 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO / CHAPMAN TRAINING ANNEX, TX by Tech Sgt Samantha Mathison - Eight Reserve Citizen Airmen with the 74th Aerial Port Squadron at the 433rd Airlift Wing here participated in a joint-service training exercise dubbed Operation Nightstorm Dec. 14-15, to learn how to sling load cargo onto in-flight helicopters.
Once the prepared cargo is secured to a pallet by the ground crew and attached to a hovering helicopter, the team runs clear while the load is airlifted to another location. Once the load is placed on the ground, the aircrew inside disconnects the load from the helo.
The exercise coordinator, known as the Pathfinder, Col. Kjäll Gopaul, Air Education and Training Command, said this was a joint effort between the Air Force, Army, and the Texas Army National Guard.
“This is ultimately readiness training for both the Texas Army National Guard and for the ground crews,” Gopaul said. “The National Guard has a proficiency requirement to conduct sling loads or external load missions, and the 74th APS aerial transporters also have aerial delivery proficiency requirements.”
According to Gopaul, these joint service training operations take place about six times a year to prepare military members to work around in-flight helicopters, which can be daunting for newcomers.
“For first-timers, today’s exercise takes away the newness and uncertainty of working around live aircraft so that they can focus on their core tasks,” he said. “Now, these Airmen and Soldiers are better prepared to execute their wartime duties while deployed overseas, or to provide peacetime support for the state of Texas.”
The Texas Army National Guard provided three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and aircrews from the 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, at Martindale Army Air Field in San Antonio, Texas, and 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment, from Austin, Texas.
Ground crew members consisted of reservists from the 74th APS, eight active-duty Airmen from the 343rd Training Squadron and Air Force Special Warfare Training Support Squadron at JBSA-Lackland, and five active-duty Army medics from JBSA-Camp Bullis Training Support Company.
The cargo was made up of four separate loads consisting of one 1,000 lbs. load of water barrels, two 2,000 lbs. loads of water barrels, and a 6,600 lbs. high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicle, also known as a Humvee.
Tech. Sgt. Rebecca Martinez, 74th APS air terminal operations center information controller, was the team leader who assisted Gopaul with implementing the exercise successfully.
“My main job was to take these different groups, who’ve never worked together before, and have them effectively set-up the cargo and landing area, perform the mission, then tear-down and pack-up afterwards,” Martinez said.
Martinez was also responsible for transporting the equipment, cargo, and personnel to and from the landing zone.
According to Martinez, the biggest challenge was accomplishing all the required tasks with a limited amount of ground crew personnel while rotating them through the different roles needed to optimize their training and experience.
“There were times where I thought, ‘Oh, man, I need more people out here,’” she said. “There was a point where I got worried that some of my team members wouldn’t be able to fly because I absolutely needed them on the ground. They missed their flight, but, luckily, we were able to get them on another one a little while later.”
It took more than a week’s worth of preparations, culminating in a full day of flight sorties that began Dec. 15 at noon and continued past sunset, resulting in participants receiving experience in nighttime sling load operations, as well.
“I think it’s gone very well today,” Gopaul said. “We had at least 40 sorties take place, and we expeditiously transported over 100,000 lbs. of cargo and personnel. Everyone had an opportunity to perform in different roles and responsibilities while conducting safe and valuable training.”
The exercise coordinator from Air Education and Training Command (AETC) known as the Pathfinder watchs sling load maneuvers