MAYPORT, Fla. (NNS) -- Warships undergo rigorous training in preparation for deployments. Responsible for warships during the Basic Phase training, Afloat Training Group Mayport (ATGM) trains and assesses more than 20 warfare mission areas including Aviation.
Large deck aviation capable warships such as amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers routinely practice damage control evolutions with aircraft shapes for maximum training value. However, cruisers and destroyers (CRUDES) did not have aircraft to train their flight deck crews in case of a crash on deck. As a result, this incredibly valuable piece of training was lost to the CRUDES Navy, until now. Thanks to the visionary efforts of ATGM's Mobility Aviation (MOB-A) Team, CRUDES warships and soon littoral combat ships will be able to practice with an actual helicopter on deck.
MOB-A training and certification consists of multiple areas including program management, drills, and at sea deck landings by helicopters. In-port, warships conduct helicopter crash drills, also known as crash and smash, to practice actions in the event of a helicopter crash on deck. Until recently, CRUSDES warships conducted this event by using two folding chairs and a spinning rope to depict a helicopter on deck. Damage control teams did not have the visual cues that they would have in a real life situation nor fully understand how to work within the confines of their own flight deck.
"I'm used to working with the aviation community who work with helicopters all the time. The sailors on these small ships, the cruisers and destroyers, they don't have that experience with them," said Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain Mate - Handling (ABHCS) (AW/SW) Lester Cruz, MOB-A's Senior Assessor. "Until now, the only experience they get is the training we give them and a swinging rope and two fold-up chairs wasn't giving them an accurate understanding of how hard it actually is to get people out of a helicopter if it goes down."
Cruz learned of two SH-60Bs that were being stricken from naval service. He immediately recognized the training value that could be afforded to flight deck crews if ATGM could acquire both aircraft. Cruz then informed his chain of command that these aircraft were available. In a meeting with ATGM Topside Warfare Director and Air Operations Officer, it was realized how valuable these assets would be if they were craned onto the flight deck of CRUDES warships. The process to move and crane the helicopters however was not simple and required coordination from within ATGM and engaging outside agencies. ATGM's Logistics Specialist First Class Petty Officer (LS1) Rico Callaway worked diligently with Naval Facilities Command (NAVFAC) to coordinate crane services and funding requirements. With assistance from Naval Station Mayport's Air Terminal and the Aircraft Intermediate Department, the team was able to arrange for the safe movement of the helicopter from the tarmac to the pier. After months of preparation, all of their hard work came to fruition on September 11, 2015, when an x60B was craned onboard USS HUE CITY (CG 66) for a MOB-A crash and smash certification.
"The stripped down and stricken from naval service SH-60B's will provide a more realistic training environment vice the flight deck simulation that is currently being used. Flight deck firefighting teams will now be able to have hands on firefighting training aboard their own fight decks, with their own gear, and with an actual helicopter to work with," said Lieutenant Commander Brian Humphreys, Aviation and Search and Rescue (SAR) Operations Officer. "These training aids will allow ships' company to become more familiar and comfortable with how to handle a crash and salvage of helicopters and is yet another way to better the training for our Sailors in preparation for time at sea."
On September 14, 2015, the flight deck team onboard HUE CITY conducted the first-ever crash and smash drill utilizing ATGM's x60B. The presence of an actual helicopter onboard increased the training value a hundred fold. For the first time, flight deck teams could actually open doors, and toggle switches in the cockpit. They had to maneuver around the aircraft on deck and really think about how they would handle the crash utilizing their equipment.
"Having an out of service helicopter on station during the drills made an outstanding difference in the way that we were able to conduct our training with the HUE CITY," said Chief Petty Officer Aviation Boatswains Mate - Handling (ABHC) Christopher Manley, MOB-A Assessor. "The hotsuitmen were able to actually conduct rescues out of the helicopter and see where the different pieces of equipment were that they needed to interact with. The differences were shocking."
The MOB-A team has permanently acquired the two x60Bs and they are now a part of MOB-A training and certification. With one aircraft marked for use onboard USS IWO JIMA (LHD 7), the second will be available for all air capable ships going through their aviation training cycle. But it doesn't end there, the team also has improvements planned to include the use of fog machines and make-shift weapons to further enhance the training experience for CRUDES flight deck crews.
"Providing an actual aircraft for crews to train on was unprecedented for CRUDES warships. LHD/LHAs and CVNs already train with aircraft to enhance training. ATG Mayport now provides that service to cruisers, destroyers, and soon littoral combat ships," said Lieutenant Commander Bo Mancuso, Director of Topside Warfare. "This is only the beginning. As this program matures, future warships will be practicing with inert hung ordnance, life-size dummies (OSCARs) seated in the cockpit with helmets and flight suits, and smoke provided by fog machines in order to provide the most realistic training possible."
For more news from Afloat Training Group Mayport, visit www.navy.mil/local/atgmayport/.