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Marine Capt. Brett Keller, pilot, performs pre-flight inspections on a UH-1Y helicopter July 22. The aircraft will be used to conduct local terrain flight operations above a recently-approved route. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tommie Horton)
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Local terrain flights approved for Marine training

Posted 7/25/2014   Updated 7/25/2014 Email story   Print story


by Jenny Gordon
Robins Public Affairs

7/25/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The 'Sound of Freedom' will now include not only the supersonic booms associated with the F-15 Eagle, but the hum of helicopter rotors used by Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 773 for training.

That's because the squadron here will now be able to conduct local terrain flight operations in the airspace above and adjacent to the eastern, uninhabited part of the base.

The move could potentially result in savings in terms of man hours, flight time and fuel cost. An estimated $300,000 per year can be saved based on training numbers and annual fuel rate costs taken per trip.

Pilots train during the year with terrain flights to remain current on certifications. One of the routes taken for those flights involves a trip with two helicopters through uninhabited areas near Thomaston, Ga., the Flint River, and sites north of Atlanta.

Two aircraft are needed; one flying at a higher altitude, while a second flies at a lower altitude just above the trees. Terrain flights, where flights occur close to the ground surface and are adapted to any contours and ground cover, such as from mountains, are from 50 to 200 feet above the ground.
While one helicopter flying higher essentially acts as a lookout for the second aircraft below, this type of training is crucial in a combat environment.

"We use terrain flight in order to avoid detection by enemy radars," said Lt. Col. Philip "Tank" Eilertson, Marine Aircraft Group 49 Detachment A commanding officer. "That's the reason we practice - to fly low in order to avoid both radar detection and visible detection from enemy aircraft."

A helicopter flying at 100 fee is going to be harder to see than aircraft at 1,000 feet, he said. While there are various threats pilots can experience flying low, such as physical hazards from power lines, birds, etc., continuous training to remain proficient is key.

The local terrain route east of Robins will now use only one helicopter, which will save on flight times associated with two aircraft travelling longer distances, man hours and fuel.

A second helicopter is not needed since the Robins Control Tower can be used for any safety calls.
Terrain flights also allow young pilots to conduct thorough terrain studies prior to flying.

Should a GPS become jammed, pilots can practice using natural checkpoints below or hard copy maps instead of electronic ones to ensure they're on a correct route.

"With this training required every 90 days, it gives us the flexibility should we have competing priorities," said Eilertson.

The process to conduct terrain flights near Robins was recently approved, complete with an environmental study approved by the Air Force.
Local support was readily apparent in the public-public and public-private partnership process, an initiative that began in early 2013 to explore ways the base, businesses, governments and private entities can collaborate to reduce operating and service costs.

Robins was one of 16 test bases in fiscal 2013 participating in the Air Force Community Partnership Initiative, created to explore cost-saving opportunities through partnerships and shared services.

Working hand-in-hand with the community is vital, especially when it's a strong supporter of the military.

"We saw an opportunity to save the Marines time and money while providing a safer environment for training," said Lt. Col. Dwayne Gray, 78th Operations Support Squadron commander. "The approval of this venture is a great example of how the community and the wing are always willing to help our mission partners.
"Due to the airfield's 24/7 operations and a supportive wing, I can see why the Marines and others are starting to see Robins as their base of choice," he added.

HMLA-773, which falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 49, is the Marine Corps Reserve's only attack helicopter squadron.

The Robins Detachment currently includes UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1W Super in its inventory.

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