MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- -- Battling 175 mph rotor wash and 200,000 volts of static electricity under the Marine Corps’ largest helicopter is normally just part of the job for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s MEU Service Support Group, Helicopter Support Team, but this time they were doing it for “Hollywood."
Actuality Productions, working for The History Channel’s “Modern Marvels,” flew from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar aboard a CH-53E Super Stallion to see the aircraft in action. The Super Station is designed for the transportation of supplies and personnel and boasts the ability to externally lift more than 15,000 pounds.
For the exercise, a super stallion externally lifted two HMMWV’s attached together weighing 13,000 pounds. The lift required eight Marines on the ground to hook the load to the helicopter, who also assisted directing the pilot while hovering above the load. There were also three crewmembers inside the helicopter working together to ensure mission success.
“Modern Marvels”, a series on the History Channel, is a show that features modern man-made wonders, how they work, and the people who operate them. According to Diane Wai, an associate producer with Actuality Production’s, the CH-53E is not the first military machine that “Modern Marvels” has featured on the show. They have also covered the F-14 fighter jet, X-15 rocket plane, X-1 experimental aircraft and the F-117A Stealth Fighter to name a few. Appearing in the same show with the Super Stallion will be the AN225 Antonov Cargo Plane, bucket wheel excavators used for surface mining, and the Blue Marlin heavy lift ship. The show will be part of a series called “World’s Biggest Machines Part II” and is scheduled to air on the History Channel on Sept. 29, at 9:00 p.m. central time.
The CH-53E was selected for the show because of its power and ability to lift up to 16 tons at sea level, transport the cargo 50 nautical miles. “Even though this exercise is the same as all the others we do, we’re all a little excited to see that this one could be on TV,” said Warren. Lt. Col. Dennis R. Stephens, commanding officer of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 462 and pilot for the exercise. He said everything went smoothly and it was a pleasure to work with the film crew. “Any time we can wave the flag for the Corps or our community, and show our capabilities, it’s a good thing,” he added.
One of them most common dual-point externals lift for a CH-53E is a M-198 155mm Howitzer, but for this exercise, the crew decided to lift two HMMWVs to show “Modern Marvels” the helicopter’s vehicular movement capabilities.
Although HST does lift exercises frequently, there is still a substantial amount of risk involved for each of the Marines involved in the exercise. There are a few steps that must be done before HST can hook the two HMMWVs up beneath the helicopter. As the helicopter moves into hovering position above the load, its rotor blades cause 175 mph downwash sending dirt and debris flying in all directions. Because of this, the HST crew tapes anything breakable on the HMMWVs, including all windows and lights, to prevent them from shattering. The crew also empties all excess cargo to lighten the load before it is lifted.
“We can basically have any load prepped and ready to go within half an hour after we get the call,” according to Cpl. Daniel A. Warren, 22, noncommissioned officer in charge of HST and a native of Dublin Calif. Once the helicopter is in position to have the load hooked up, its cables must be grounded before anybody can touch them. A CH-53E generates up to 200,000 volts of static electricity that run directly into the hook-up cables.
One of the HST crewmembers grounds the static electricity by grabbing the external hook-up cable with a grounding hook. Once the electricity is grounded, the crew hooks the load to the helicopter. While all of this is taking place, more HST members give hand signals to crewmembers on the CH-53E to keep the helicopter in the right position for hook up. When the load is attached, the ground signalmen direct to begin lifting the load. The HST crew performed a series of lifts before landing to pick up the camera crew and return to MCAS Miramar.