AL ASAD, Iraq -- Another shipment of CH-46 helicopters belonging to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 161 from Miramar, Calif., arrived here Aug. 15 and 17. As the gargantuan transporters slowly braked, Marines scrambled to safely offload the aircraft from the United States Air Force's C-17 Globemaster and C-5 Galaxy.
The majority of the Greyhawk Marines arrived in country Aug. 11 and the Marines seemed anxious for the arrival of the aircraft they prepared for transport just weeks ago. Preparation required the removal of the rotorblades, forward transmission and rotorhead, aft rotorhead and vertical shaft. The squadron also removed the main landing gear and replaced it with temporary supports.
Strict safety guidelines and maintenance procedures were used to prepare the helicopter for transport. After 30 hours transiting from Miramar, close to 10 Marines, working up to eight hours per aircraft, will reassemble the CH-46s, and prepare them for a functional check flight.
Flying helicopters inside enormous fixed wing aircraft has become a standard mode of transporting the rotary wing into various theaters of operation. It isn’t practical for helicopters to fly the long distance over land or water compared to the larger transport aircraft. The Globemaster can carry payloads up to 169,000 pounds. The C-5 Galaxy, much larger than the C-17, can carry unusually large and heavy cargo up to 840,000 pounds. Both colossal transports are designed to provide strategic airlift for deployment and supply of combat and support forces. The immense size of the air ship dwarfed the rotor aircraft inside.
After landing, it took a few hours to offload the CH-46s and its engines and rotors. The Marines worked in unison, and each knew exactly where to be and what to do, like a well tuned instrument. The CH-46 weighs approximately 11,000 pounds and is 45 feet long with its rotors removed.
The unit has been preparing for this deployment since its return from Iraq 11 months ago. But, this is the unit’s third deployment in support of OIF. Once all their aircraft are on the ground here, the squadron will move to a forward operating base from where they will perform casualty evacuations, and provide logistical transport and assault support as needed.
“We bring a professionally seasoned squadron that has a wealth of knowledge from two previous OIF deployments,” said Sgt. Maj. William F. Fitzgerald, squadron sergeant major and Big Rapids, Mich., native. “The Greyhawks are focused on serving selflessly, with honor and protecting each other with the ultimate goals of accomplishing our mission in Iraq and bringing everyone home unharmed.”