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Helicopter squadron saves money, maintains safety

13 Jan 2011 | Gunnery Sgt. Cindy Fisher

Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, recently marked 60,500 flight hours without sustaining any Class A mishaps.

A Class A mishap is any damage that equals $2 million or more or any fatality, explained Capt. Ryan M. Caulder, the squadron’s aviation safety officer.

Reaching this mark is extremely significant as it has taken 13 years to accumulate those flight hours, Caulder said.

Since 1997, the squadron has deployed to Iraq, been part of six rotations with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, III MEF, and participated in numerous humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations, he said.

The squadron flies CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters but when reinforced for a MEU, can also include AH-1W Cobras, CH-53E Sea Stallions and UH-1N Hueys.

So, reaching this mark is “a testament to our leadership over the last decade, (and) the safety measures we use,” he said.

The squadron meticulously follows the rules, regulations and orders governing the maintenance and flying of the squadron’s helicopters, added Maj. David Hurst, HMM-262’s executive officer.

All of these have “been written and rewritten over the past 60 years … we’ve gotten to the point where we’re really good at flying safely.”

One of the keys of safe flying is every member of the crew depending on each other, he added. “Flying a helicopter is a true team sport,” he said. “Regardless of rank, every team member is just as important when it comes to flying the bird.”

This was certainly true for the flight that surpassed the 60,000th hour mark, he said. The flight crew – though not aware of the significance of that flight – remembers the flight clearly.

It was a night carrier qualification off USS Denver Nov. 9, 2010, recalled Hurst, the pilot for the flight.

“Flying at night is one of the hardest things to do,” he said.

“It was definitely a dark night,” said Cpl. Guy D. Capra, a member of the crew for that flight. During carrier qualifications, a pilot takes off from the ship, flies a circular pattern and then practices landing back on the ship.

To do that, “it definitely takes the whole crew, especially on a very dark night, on a very small boat,” said Capt. David M. Garcia, co-pilot for the flight.

“When we take off, we can’t see the boat. It’s the crew in the back we rely on to see the (landing) pad and help direct pilots where to land,” Garcia explained.

Not only is the landing space small, but, since it is a ship, it is also moving up and down and back and forth, he said.

Capra summed up the difficulty of trying to land a helicopter on a carrier.

“You’ve got a moving target while you’re running full speed ahead,” Capra said. But reaching 60,000 flight hours without any Class A mishaps isn’t about one crew, he said.

“It’s day-by-day vigilance” by everyone, explained Lance Cpl. T. K. Nardi, crew chief for the Nov. 9 flight. “Discipline and integrity, that’s what gets it done.”

“We got lucky; it was our turn to be out there flying that night,” Capra said.

“It hits home that we are still carrying on that legacy of safety, of excellence” from the Marines that came before, he said.

31st Marine Expeditionary Unit