Staff Sgt. Stephen Ferguson, a crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, rides in the back of a UH-1Y Venom as it approaches a landing zone during a training exercise near Camp Lejeune, N.C., June 17, 2016. Familiarization flights familiarize pilots new to the unit with the different landing zones and flight procedures around the Camp Lejeune area. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron K. Fiala/Released.)

Marines with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing familiarize a new pilot with their squadron through local flights around Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., June 20.

Staff Sgt. Stephen Ferguson, a crew chief with the unit, explained that when new pilots conduct familiarization flights to acclimatize to navigating the UH-1Y Venom in a new environment. The UH-1Y is a helicopter capable of carrying multiple weapon systems, to include various mounted machineguns and rocket pods as well as a small squad of Marines.

They flew to several training landing zones off base, which allowed unit’s new pilot to get hands-on experience and training with his new unit.

Capt. Ryan E. Casey, a pilot with the unit, oversaw the introductory flight while the new pilot was tasked with performing various types of take-off and landing techniques at the different landing zones they traveled between. The different landing zones allowed the new pilot to practice several maneuvers upon approach and take-off.

First, the pilot was coached through each landing zone and participated in a demonstration of what he was expected to do. Then, he performed the maneuvers.

The pilots practiced high-speed, low-level approaches as well as a multitude of confined area landings. Low-level approaches and confined area landings provides concealment from the ground as the pilot is manipulating the craft just above the tree tops.

“It’s important to control your entry into a landing zone when conducting these tactical approaches because in many environments there is the threat of hitting a tree or other obstacle,” said Casey. “Staying vigilant while flying low and following the terrain helps mitigate that threat.”

The crew concluded with some emergency drills that simulated losing power in their engines.

“This simulation involved flying the aircraft at high velocity to gain momentum,” said Ferguson. “Then they had to navigate it in a way that angled the helicopter as it neared the ground and slowed it down enough to attempt a safe landing.”

This technique is difficult to perform because the pilots can’t cut power to the aircraft to try and replicate the same conditions as an emergency.
Casey explained losing power in both engines does not stop the helicopter’s blades from spinning naturally and rotations actually increase in speed as the aircraft descends.

“It is at this time that the pilot manipulates the helicopters blades in a way that allows them to angle the aircraft for a safer landing,” Casey said.

Casey explained that in the event of engine failure, they need to be able to think and react quickly to land the craft in the safest possible way, with minimal risk for the crew and any passengers.

For every flight, there are countless hours that go into planning for safety. This includes briefing the crew, making sure everyone knows how to use their safety gear in the event of an emergency-landing in the water and other in-flight emergency procedures.