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JTF-B Soldiers set the standard for foreign aircraft recovery

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Chyenne A. Griffin
  • Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs
Joint Task Force-Bravo Soldiers set the standard for foreign aircraft recovery this week when they used an Army helicopter to slingload a Belizean Defence Force aircraft out of swampland and back to the Belize City International Airport.

Members of the 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment stepped up to the plate when the Belizean Defence Force leadership asked for assistance from JTF-Bravo to recover a downed BDF Defender BN-2B aircraft that was sunken into some marshland near the coast of Belize.

Two UH-60 Black Hawks were sent, dropping four Army personnel on-site to assist the eight BDF soldiers who were already on scene. The group waded through thigh-high mud to reach the site and used 20-plus years of military experience to properly secure and sling the aircraft.

"There isn't really a regulation about how to do an operation like this," said Sgt. 1st Class Mike Parks, 1-228th quality control non-commissioned officer in charge. "Although the Army's Air Assault Regulation covers lifting U.S. military aircraft and equipment, there's nothing to tell you how to hook up these very different pieces of foreign equipment. So you use your military experience and triple-check everything to ensure the safety of the entire mission."

The group used a sling-set, consisting of super-strong nylon cords and metal-link chains, capable of holding up to 25,000 pounds for the approximately 5,000 pound aircraft. Several 5,000-pound cargo straps and rolls of military-strength "100-mile-per-hour" tape were used to secure all parts that could possibly move, including the props and rudder.

Once the sling-set was triple-checked secure, one of the Black Hawks hovered close to the ground so the ground crew could properly ground the helicopter and discharge all static electricity. Then the Defender's sling-set, plus a 30 foot extension cable to ensure clearance between the Black Hawks belly and the tail of the Defender, were connected to the helicopter's cargo hook.

One of the biggest risks during such an operation is that the aircraft will move or oscillate out of control. So the Black Hawk pilots had to be ready to drop the load at any point if it seemed to jeopardize the safety of the helicopter or personnel. Two crew chiefs carefully observed out of both sides of the doors-open Black Hawk as the pilots slowly pulled the load up out of the mud.

"The rigging team did a phenomenal job in preparing the Defender for aerial recovery. It proved to be a much more stable load than we expected," said Army Maj. Frank Intini, 1-228th Operations Officer and the pilot on the controls of the Black Hawk that pulled the Defender up and out. "The professionalism and teamwork of the air and ground crews resulted in a safe and successful mission."

A mission such as this has only been accomplished one other time in JTF-B history, but it had nearly the same scenario - in 1999, a U.S. Army Chinook helicopter recovered another BDF Defender aircraft that had crashed in a swamp near the Belize coast.

Both missions were successful and succeeded in furthering the thriving relationship between the American and Belizean armed forces and governments.

"The Belize recovery mission was extremely successful. The aircraft was properly rigged the very first time and was brought immediately and safely back to the BDF air wing compound," said Army Lt. Col. Howard Arey, 1-228th commander and pilot in command for the mission. "The Chief of the Belizean Defence Forces greeted us before the mission and following delivery; he was very appreciative of our efforts. It's not very often that we fly such a load and it was great training, safely executed."