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A DAY WITH THE DRAGON WHALES.

When I first joined the magazine staff six years ago, I realized that as a civilian reporting on the military there were several aspects of Naval Aviation that I needed to experience for myself in order to do my job effectively. After visiting a carrier (and logging a trap and a cat in a C-2 Greyhound in the process), I still wanted to experience flying in both helicopters and jets. As a former motorcycle racer, I appreciate the sensation of speed associated with jets, but I have always had a soft spot for helos. There's just something about the visibly operating mechanical components of a helicopter that appeals to my "gearhead" interests. So when the opportunity came up to accompany Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 8, NS Norfolk, Va., I jumped at the chance to both log my first helo flight and observe firsthand the real-world operations of a Navy squadron.

On a cold February day, I joined pilots Lieutenant James Mason and Lieutenant (jg) Chris Claybrook, aircrewmen AD2 Ryan Tennyson and AMCS Pete Durant and five search and rescue (SAR) swimmers on board a CH-46 Sea Knight for a late afternoon training hop to maintain the swimmers' currency. Hours of preparation led up to the flight--from maintenance to flight planning, preflight inspection and briefing--but for this experienced and professional aircrew the only unusual aspect was finding flight gear to fit me. Soon we were strapped into the jump seats and in the air en route to the nearby operations area over Willoughby Bay.

The swimmers were out the back more quickly than I would have thought possible, churning up five splashes of white wake in the midst of the CH-46's rotor wash. As the helo began a grand sweeping turn to recover them, all that was visible above the water line were five black, wetsuited heads. In the short time it took to reach them, they had grouped together as briefed for recovery--two sets of two, and one by himself. The hoist operator dropped the sling and began the tricky business of directing the pilots into proper position. After securing themselves in the "horse collar," the SAR swimmers were pulled from the water, huge droplets streaming off their bodies and blowing away as they twisted and swayed on the hoist line. As they reached the Sea Knight's door, the hoist operator leaned out and physically hauled them into the aircraft, forming a momentary jumble of wetsuits, swim fins, aircrewmen's boots and cables on the floor. Untangled, the dripping wet swimmers returned to their seats, their faces red fr om the cold, to await the helo's return to the drop zone for the next evolution. After four drop cycles the Sea Knight landed to refuel, I bid the crew goodbye, and they once again took to the air for a series of night jumps.

When I returned to my room at the end of the day, I realized that, as cold and tired as I was, it was nothing compared to what the men and women who fly daily, in any weather, experience. The people I met at HC-8 that day represent the professionalism and dedication that are the embodiment of Naval Aviation.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:LELAND, WENDY
Publication:Naval Aviation News
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
Words:532
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