FORT DRUM, N.Y. --
Tiny snowflakes dart from every direction as the frigid wind blows them across the open flight line. A group of Marines stand in waiting, bundled up from head-to-toe as they scan the skies above. A group of UH-1Y Venoms and AH-1W Super Cobras begin their descent towards the flight line and the Marines jump into action.
This was the scene when Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269, Marine Aircraft Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, landed to conduct cold weather training operations aboard Fort Drum, N.Y., March 8.
“We’re detached from our norm back at [Marine Corps Air Station New River] where everything is more familiar,” said Capt. Nathan Davis, a pilot with HMLA-269. “We’re getting out and learning to integrate with other units to be able to operate effectively in cold weather conditions.”
The training, which began March 8, will involve learning how to deal with the challenges that come with working in cold and sometimes snowy and icy environments. Units from across the Department of Defense including 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, 174th Attack Wing and 10th Combat Aviation Brigade will have a hand in accomplishing the mission.
“We have very gracious hosts with the U.S. Army to be able to fall into their spaces and conduct operations,” said Capt. Joseph Roberts, a pilot with HMLA-269. “The Marines have really taken to figuring out the challenges of this environment,”
According to Davis, one of the biggest challenges of operating the aircraft in the snow is visibility.
“Just as sand can get kicked up in a brownout, the same thing will happen to your visibility in a whiteout,” said Davis. “It really obscures the pilot’s visibility. So we’ve trained for that and this is our chance to employ those tactics in a real world environment.”
Not only do the pilots have a hard time in the harsh conditions, but the aircraft maintainers, crew chiefs and ordnance technicians have to also adapt and overcome obstacles.
“One of our biggest challenges is realizing that everything works slower,” said Roberts. “As things get cold, they tend to break. So we have to remain flexible and build in that extra time.”
Although there are many challenges afoot in the next week, the Marines in the unit are confident that the first few days of operations have set them up for success. The lessons learned from this training will serve as guidance that can be applied to operations all around the world, and make the unit a more valuable asset to the Air Combat Element of the Marine Corps.
“It’s a necessity,” said Roberts. “There is a good chunk of the world that has weather like this, and as Marines, we need to be able to answer the nation’s call to any one of those places, and do it effectively.”