By Sgt. Jason Dangel
4th Infantry Division public affairs
Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade successfully completed the second phase of their Disabled Aircraft Recovery Team training during a simulated UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter crash Nov. 7 on the training grounds of Fort Hood.
The scenario is part of a division and brigade mission to fully man, equip and train soldiers to perform aircraft recovery missions both in garrison and in combat.
The second phase of the training involved responding to a downed aircraft via ground convoy, correctly assessing damage and performing initial steps in order to evacuate crew members and recover the aircraft.
“When any of the brigade’s aircraft goes down, or there is any type of incident, our job is to respond to the call with the necessary assets in order to recover the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Alsup, UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter technical inspector, Bravo Company, 404th Aviation Support Battalion.
“Our goal is to get to the point where we can effectively respond and assemble the recovery team in about 30 minutes after we receive the ‘fallen angel’ report,” Alsup said.
Similar to the training event, aircraft recovery operations require extensive coordination even if the aircraft needs something as simple as repairing a fluid leak, Alsup said.
After responding to the simulated helicopter crash, the team’s first assumption was that the aircraft was in good condition, but overlooked the possibility of a hydraulic fluid leak, an essential fluid used in the propeller and rotor system.
With the fluid not readily available, the team wasn’t able to make the fix at the time but learned a valuable lesson.
“Everything we are doing today is meant to be a learning experience in order to go back, talk about the things we need to work on and do it right the next time,” said Maj. Ray Herrera, Bravo Company’s commander.
Even though the training event wasn’t geared toward a worst-case scenario, the soldiers learned quickly it is always better to be overly prepared than not having the necessary equipment available to make a simple fix.
“It’s always better to think of the worst-case scenario,” Herrera said to his soldiers after they completed the training event. “An initial report can’t tell you everything. You have to take it upon yourselves to think outside the box and be prepared for the worst if an aircraft goes down.”
Most of the time, especially in combat scenarios, a recovery operation is time sensitive, and the soldiers who are responsible for making the initial assessments are critically important to the entire operation, said Sgt. Robert Thibault, the team’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
“The soldiers who respond first to the downed aircraft must make the determination whether the aircraft can be repaired on site or if the aircraft needs to be extracted and recovered by other means,” he said. “They must also have all the necessary equipment to be able to make repairs if the aircraft can be fixed and flown out of (the crash site).”
If the aircraft can be fixed on a multitude of maintenance, experts can be called in to repair the aircraft depending on the type of damage.
Some of these maintenance technicians include airframe repairman, hydraulic systems repairman, propeller and rotor experts, avionics specialists and engine mechanics.
All of these experts would initially be on sight if an aircraft were to go down.
If the aircraft can’t be repaired quickly and safely, the determination would then be made to extract and recover the aircraft, Thibault said.
The most commonly used methods of extraction and recovery include using a crane and transporting the disabled aircraft on a large truck or lifting the aircraft from the crash site using a CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopter.
“Right now, we are still in the building stages of the training, and what we did today was basically just to see what we need to work on as a team,” Thibault said. “There are a lot of new soldiers on the team. In fact, there are only a few of us left from the team we had during our last deployment to Iraq, but we are headed in the right direction.”
The day’s training was only a small portion of the training brigade leaders have prepared for the soldiers who will be required to successfully complete a full-scale aircraft recovery exercise in February.
The training event — coupled with the team’s sling load training exercise, which was completed Oct. 30 — is considered the foundation of success for the small team of support soldiers.
February’s exercise is intended to validate the team’s tactics, techniques and procedures for aircraft recovery operations as well as prepare the team for combat.