HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- The CH-53E Super Stallions of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), are supporting a critical mission for the International Security Assistance and Afghan National Security Forces as they haul some of the biggest payloads across the province.
The squadron carries items such as food, water, vehicles and ammunition through the intense desert heat and demanding altitudes that create complex challenges for the "Flying Tigers" of HMH-361.
A Super Stallion is capable of lifting 36,000 pounds. However, a typical external load would be a 16,000-pound M198 howitzer or a 26,000-pound Light Armored Vehicle, explained Sgt. William Rogers, a crew chief with the squadron. The Marines have to plan according to weather conditions for how much weight they can carry when preparing for these types of large lifts.
The aircrews use pressure altitude, density altitude and temperature to figure out how much a helo can transport. The pressure and temperature provide a helicopter’s available power and density altitude provides the power required, explained Maj. Eric Purcell, a pilot and the operations officer for the "Flying Tigers."
The squadron usually does heavy external lifts during the cooler parts of the day, Rogers said.
"[One morning] the temperature was hotter than what we planned for and that reduced our lift capability," Purcell said. "According to the Humvee’s windshield it weighed 13,000 pounds, but when temperatures are as high as they are, and being at this altitude, that is a very heavy lift for us."
That day the aircrews put the Super Stallions to maximum power and took off knowing the Marines at Kajaki Dam needed the humvees. Making the flights to Kajaki is important not only for the Marines trying to get there, but also because it is the safest way for personnel to get in and out of the area.
Three days later, the squadron transported food, water and Marines to Kajaki Dam, only to pick up more Marines and supplies to fly back to Camp Bastion.
"The majority of the time we are moving personnel or cargo where ever we fly," said Lance Cpl. Joshua Perkins, a HMH-361 Super Stallion crew chief. "Whatever needs to be moved, we move it."
It’s a heavy mission for HMH-361, but the squadron has proven to be valuable asset as they support ISAF with its heavy-lift capabilities.