INDIAN OCEAN (NNS) -- USS Benfold (DDG 65) set an aviation milestone Jan. 24 with its 100th helicopter landing since arriving on station off the coast of Indonesia New Year's Day.
The crew of the MH-60S Seahawk, assigned to USNS San Jose (TAFS-7), was welcomed after the successful landing with ship's coins and hats, commemorating the occasion - a feat made even more remarkable considering that Benfold, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, doesn't have its own helicopter or helicopter hanger.
Navy helicopters, operating in support of Operation Unified Assistance, have operated at a very high tempo, averaging between three and five humanitarian aid drops a day.
"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 of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Warfare Squadron (Light) (HSL) 47 embarked aboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). "We've been averaging about 40 hours a month, normally."
The fast pace has meant Benfold has averaged transferring approximately 155 gallons a day, accounting for more than 14,500 gallons of fuel since Jan. 1. Although several ships in the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group can support helicopter refuelings, several factors contribute to Benfold being such a popular landing platform.
"We'd like to say it's because of our box lunches that the pilots like to come here," said Operations Specialist 1st Class Eric Gonzales, "but several operational factors make Benfold the logical choice."
What Gonzales is referring to is that Benfold typically operates closest to land because of an embarked hydrographic survey team remapping the Indonesian waters affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami. Additionally, since Benfold doesn't have its own helicopter or hangars, pilots don't have to compete with a resident helicopter for a landing zone. In fact, the only time a helicopter has to wait is when another chopper beats them to Benfold.
"Pilots love to come to USS Benfold," said Lt. Cmdr. David Dunn, Benfold's executive officer, "because we always have a green deck, our crew is very professional, and we have the best box lunches around."
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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