Shhhhhhh….. She’s sleeping…….
Shhhhhhh….. She’s sleeping…….
A U.S. Air Force HH-60 helicopter crashed while landing at night on Monday, August 5 in the Central Training Area of Okinawa. Unfortunately, one crew member perished and the other three survived as the wreck — partially made up of magnesium — burned up and caught some of the surrounding jungle on fire.
There was very little left of anything resembling a helicopter, but the tiny pieces of melted metal and few larger components totaled thousands of pounds. No military trucks could reach the crash site; it was 1/2 mile from the LZ through thick triple canopy jungle and roughly sloped terrain. The Air Force’s own HH-60’s and the local USMC CH-46’s and MV-22 Ospreys were not capable of performing the external pick-up of the parts. A CH-53E was required.
The exact area was on the 45-degree slope of a hill, so to provide the necessary clearance for the helicopter to be able to hover over the cargo, a nearly football field-sized area of trees had to be cut down. An extra long cargo pendant, also for rotor blade clearance for the trees at the top of the hill, had to be used and was obtained from the Japanese military. All of these complications led to a lengthy delay of the retrieval of the helicopter wreckage, while cultural friction built as some Okinawan civilians voiced their desire to have the debris removed from the jungle on their island.
HMH-772 finally sent a Super Stallion to recover the Air Force HH-60 wreckage on October 12, making over a half dozen externals to successfully bring the metal remains to an LZ with trucks waiting.
We have a hangar, technically, but we aren’t allowed to move into it or perform maintenance in it. The only purpose of the hangar so far has been to shelter the CH-53’s and Cobras inside when the base is at risk from a typhoon. When we stuffed the hangar with all our planes recently, I slowly walked through the quiet open space, taking pictures.
Traditionally, there usually is a squadron and/or shop photo associated with a deployment. Instead of making a mundane shop photo wearing our cammies after the squadron picture, we did ours several days later dressed in our usual working wear of oil-stained coveralls and flight suits. A driving idea behind these shop photos is the aircraft we used had no rotor blades yet, sort of a summary of the difficult battle we’ve had with the helicopters the entire deployment.
Also one trend I’ve noticed over the years is to take one serious-looking picture as well as one with any manner of ridiculous poses. We did both styles for the two different setups.
…..and Goofing off
Turning the camera diagonally was the only way to fit the C-130’s wingspan into the picture
Passengers out the side; cargo out with a forklift
I’ll be damned, one of the few photos of me
What bored Marines do when we couldn’t find our computer… make one out of a wooden box
Wolf and Clinger replacing a tail disconnect component
Tail Pylon detail
Rain on the horizon
Venting out the fuel vapor fumes
Fuel Cell maintenance
Wolf, draining out the last drops
Futenma flightline sunset
Super Stallion framed by light
Same as above, but achieved a silhouette effect
Two Cobras and a Super Stallion
Thanks Gunny. Not everybody loves the camera
I felt like a wildlife photographer taking this picture through the bushes, of a helicopter in the ‘wild’
Portrait of Russell showing off his close-cropped moustache
The AMO showing up for the morning maintenance meeting
FOD walk, while the sun was still low in the sky
After a rain shower
I liked the conflicting angles of this view toward the tail
Rotorheads appearing through the wavy heat rising up from the curve in the flightline
We have not been doing much flying, so I’ll put some photos up from several weeks before.
Long delayed (it has been 2 months, not going to get into details) our squadrons first CH-53E flight occurred. I could only help out testing the planes from the ground so this was my first taste of soaring past the island from above. Only a couple photographs were taken since I was preoccupied with getting ‘back in the saddle’ as far as flying was concerned. These were taken not over Okinawa itself, but near one of the small outlying islands.
Flightline shop on the move
The “color bird” of HMM-262, the Flying Tigers
Sgt Armstrong, H-1 Mechanic
Tail and Rotor Head
Avionicsman working under Cobra
A “Phrog” and a “Shitter”
This was supposed to work out much better… I was trying to ‘hold’ the CH-53 in my hands like a platter
Stanley supporting a CH-46 by his index finger
Well, after a long and arduous process of rebuilding the aircraft after being transported halfway around the world our unit finally had two helicopters turn-up for check flights on the same day. The anticipation of all the maintenance personnel was palpable, especially after weeks of busting our knuckles fixing CH-53’s that had not flown or moved since we arrived.
Troubleshooting an engine
Watching from the shade
Crew Chief, SSgt Jones, ready to turn-up
I always think of that dumb song when I have to work a weekend. Thanks to Cody Mitchell for that, he would always play the song on the shop radio back in HMH-363’s Flightline shop in Hawaii when there was even the remote chance we might have to work that weekend. Play time was over here, though. We had our fun and our helicopters still needed a lot of work before we could start flying, including some nonsense like pedal popping and full rigs. Honestly, I expected to work a majority of the weekends so having to only do 3 or 4 so far is not bad.
One of several uncomfortable positions mechanics assume during Full Rigs
The Sergeant Major on the prowl
Pushing a several-hundred-pound rollaway toolbox
The start of a job
Discussing Staff NCO things
SSgt. Hensley, Airframes, showing his enthusiasm for the camera
I think a CH-53E is an authorized vehicle…
Morning maintenance meeting
The giant Cicada that tried to eat Chad Jones
The ubiquitous Japanese coffee and drink vending machines. There is never one more than 50 feet away.
SSgt Garcia, Airframes
Progress to be made
Birds’ eye view
This green container and concrete barrier is essentially the Flightline shop
Flightline about to leave work
The first week of hectic maintenance brought with it a good introduction to fixing planes in the humid conditions coupled with the lack of logistical support. I felt as if we were better equipped in the remote wasteland of Afghanistan than we are in Okinawa, at an air station that has had helicopters for decades. The simple explanation is — the base was not ready for us: no hangar, scavenging support equipment, and almost everyone spending the entire day outside. I would be tempted to say I’d choose Afghanistan any day over this, as far as working conditions went.
We went ahead anyway and charged headfirst into rebuilding the first helicopter after it stood ‘broken down’ after C-5 transport.
While also sunny and warm, this wasn’t quite our final destination of Okinawa. The photos presented here depict how we had to unload our two CH-53’s out of the Air Force plane since it was “broken”. Shortly after the three hour offload was completed, they were magically fixed and headed back to Texas the next day. We spent 4 full days in Northern California just outside of Travis Air Force base. The eight of us were mostly relegated to staying at the hotel since we did not have a vehicle. On one day when we didn’t have to go to the base at all, Longbine and I took a train to San Francisco. We didn’t really know where to go, so our site seeing was limited to long walks up the steep streets with stops at 5 or 6 bars during the day. I had to talk him in to at least walking past Chinatown so I could catch a glimpse of it.
Offloading the Main Gearbox with attached Rotor Head
Close up of a tie-down chain
Enjoy the oil we spilt…suckers