BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (NNS) -- Air crews assigned to Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron (Light) (HSL) 47 aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) exceeded their quarterly 600 flight hours in January as a result of their direct support of Operation Unified Assistance.
The high number of hours wouldn't normally be news in the aviation community, except for the fact that the quarter began only 23 days earlier.
"We've been averaging 60 hours of flight time a day, which is an exorbitant amount of time compared to what we usually fly," said Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 1st Class Joseph Sabia, HSL-47. "We've been averaging about 40 hours a month, normally."
Navy helicopters are averaging three to five humanitarian aid drops a day, but despite the high operational tempo, the helicopter air crews remain focused.
"The air crew and pilots are basically upbeat about everything," said Sabia. "It's a mission we look forward to doing every day."
In addition to flying extra hours during Operation Unified Assistance, helicopter air crews have reconfigured their aircraft to accommodate as much humanitarian aid as they can safely deliver.
"We modified our aircraft by taking out our sonobuoy launchers and all of our seats except one to get more room," said Sabia.
All of the extra flight time and aircraft modifications have been worth it, according to Sabia, who recalled his first mission on Jan. 2.
"We were flying, and we saw four stranded individuals with broken bridges on both sides, and the water was high," said Sabia. "We came in and made our turn. It looked like seven kids and a father. They were patting their bellies saying they were hungry and thirsty. We came into a low hover and dropped about a hundred pounds of Bisquick and maybe about another 200 pounds of water to them."
It didn't take long for the air crew to realize how much good one drop could do.
"Just the look in their eyes ... you knew they were really appreciative when we dropped it, " said Sabia. "It gave me a tingle up my spine and chills all over my body."
As the hours continue mount on HSL-47's air crews, Sailors like Sabia realize that the humanitarian mission they are doing may be as good as it gets.
"This is probably the pinnacle of my career," he said. "I'll probably never experience anything as devastating as this, or as rewarding."
For related news on Navy tsunami relief operations, visit the Focus on Tsunami Relief Operations page at www.navy.mil/local/tsunami.
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