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298 Squadron, Sling the Load; Oirschotse Heide, April 22, 2016

Training with a Sling Load; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

Flying with a Sling Load under the helicopter during an action requires good team work between the helicopter pilot, the loadmaster and ground personnel. Training the lifting and dropping off a sling load is a standard training which is trained by both the helicopter crews and ground staff during a scenario exercise.

Flying in sling loads is a standard procedure which is performed by the personnel of both the Dutch Air Force and the Dutch Army. A sling load is a load which is carried externally under the fuselage of the helicopter. The CH-47D/F Chinook helicopters of the no. 298 Squadron at Gilze-Rijen are specialists in transporting sling loads. The Chinook helicopter is by far the strongest helicopter in Western Europe for transporting heavy loads. The original American Chinook helicopter is in Europe the only tandem configuration helicopter which is currently in service. The Chinook is equipped with three hooks under the fuselage which can carry a total load of 14,000 kg. The Dutch Air Force has a total of 17 Chinook helicopters in use. The helicopters were in the past already widely deployed during several missions. Many remote areas in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali are hardly accessible with vehicles and conventional aircraft. These areas are dependent on supplies with helicopters such as the Chinook. During the sling load exercise on April 22, 2016, a number of loadmasters were trained. During this training loadmasters on the ground were trained. They had to attach the load to the hook of the helicopter and they had to point out the drop point for the cargo. This training includes both the techniques of attaching the cargo to the hook and the procedures which are used. The loadmasters play during attaching and dropping off of cargo a crucial role, because the helicopter will create a brown out situation in a desert-like environment.

A total of two Chinook helicopters of the no 298 Squadron were used for the slingload exercise which took place on the Oirschotse Heide on May 22, 2016. Both helicopters were of the type CH-47D which can be identified by the dark green color scheme. In addition to the CH-47D, the no. 298 Squadron also has a number of CH-47F helicopters which can be recognized by the gray color scheme. The sling load which would be used during the exercise and the personnel who would execute the exercise

on the ground were flown in by the two helicopters to the Oirschotse Heide. One of the helicopters dropped off the cargo on the location and other Chinook made a landing to drop off the troops. In total nine people were dropped off by the Chinook. The group consisted of two instructors and seven students. This exercise was intended primarily for personnel on the ground. The sling load which was flown in consisted of a grid containing a load. The students would attach the cargo to the cargo hook under the Chinook. One minute later the cargo would be dropped off again on the same spot. The two Chinooks would alternately pick up the cargo to deliver it again to the loadmasters on the ground. Every time a cargo was dropped by a Chinook, the next Chinook flew towards the pick-up point to pick up the load. The exercise took place on the eastern side of the Heath in a relatively small area. Every time when the helicopters would lift the load, they would fly away smoothly to keep the load steady.

During the approach for picking up the load, it is very important that the loadmaster on the ground is in contact with the loadmaster in the Chinook. When the helicopter is hovering close to the ground it blows much sand into the air; the pilot of the helicopter has therefore no sight at all. The two loadmasters on the ground are ready next to the load. One person holds the hook of the cargo package in the air which is used as a reference for the pilot of the Chinook. The second person on the ground shows with his hands where the Chinook should go into a hover. The loadmaster in the cargo bay of the helicopter guides the pilot to the correct location by radio. The helicopter which will pick up the load will not land. The helicopter will hover just 1.5 meters above ground and the sling load. The two loadmasters on the ground are completely covered in their suits and wear a special mask and glasses. During the hover action they will almost completely disappear from view due to the sand which is blown away. It is the task of the loadmaster in the helicopter to get the Chinook exactly above the cargo at a height where the loadmasters on the ground are able to attach the cargo to the hook. During this training the cargo was attached to the hook in the middle of the Chinook. The coupling action of the cargo to the hook happened in a few seconds. When attached to the hook the loadmasters on the ground will take distance of the cargo. The helicopter pilot will climb slowly until the cargo is completely off the ground.

While flying away, the loadmaster is hanging out of the door at the side of the helicopter. He checks if the load is not moving under the helicopter. The Chinook will make a much wider turn than it normally does to prevent swinging of the load. During this sling load exercise, the helicopter would drop the load again at the same location after departing with the load. The loadmasters on the ground would point out with their hands where the pilot should drop the load. The loadmaster in the Chinook would give instructions to the pilot during the approach of the drop off circuit. The helicopter would decent slowly just above the treetops and it is descending slowly its speed. If the helicopter will lower the speed too fast the cargo starts to swing under the helicopter. The pilot will decent slowly until the load is on the ground while the helicopter is in a hover. The pilot cannot see anything during this action, because a lot of sand is blown up by the rotor downwash. The loadmaster is the only person who can see whether the cargo is already on the ground. Once the load is on the ground, the loadmaster will release the hook. As with the retrieval of the load is also the dropping off of the load only a game of seconds. After the last dropping of the cargo the training of the students was finished. The cargo was 14 times dropped during this exercise and each student practiced the procedure twice with the Chinook. After performing the exercise, the first Chinook flew the load back to Gilze-Rijen. The second Chinook made a landing to fly the troops also back home.

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