Photos by Sgt. Andrew McNeil
Pilots assigned to 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, fly their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in the mountainous region of Northern Georgia, Dec. 2. The Soldiers attached night vision optics to their helmets in order to see the terrain below them during the training.
Black Hearts train under cover of night
The sun started to hide behind the horizon as an orange glow blended into a darkening blue sky. A pilot and platoon leader, 1st Lt. Sai Kumar, circled up the Black Heart Soldiers of B Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, next to one of their UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters and conducted the mission brief.
The company flew from Hunter Army Airfield to Lee Gilmore Memorial Airport in Gainesville, Georgia, Dec. 2, where they staged their helicopters and waited for nightfall. Once the sky was black, the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers attached night vision optics to their helmets and began conducting preflight checks. Their mission was to complete air assault training into multiple mountain landing zones at Dahlonega, Georgia.
The sound of the six helicopter engines grew faint as they took off from the airport into the night sky. The inside of the helicopter was dark. The only light came from the instrument panel and a faint glow of green could be seen over the crew members’ eyes created by the night vision optics.
The radio buzzed with chatter as senior pilots guided junior pilots through the challenges of flying at altitude across varying terrain.
In the mountains, the pilots had to deal with wind shifts, navigating through the dense forest, and maintaining situation awareness in a quickly changing landscape.
As the helicopter made its approach for landing, the crew chiefs informed the pilots about what was in their blind spots. The radio buzzed as every crew member communicated key information to land the Black Hawk safely.
“This was an opportunity to stress ourselves, our equipment and to stress our notions of how we lead,” said Capt. Daniel Prior, a pilot and the company commander. “This is something we always aspire to do, especially in the Black Hearts, because this helps us build our skills as aviators and leaders.”
On the ground, the helicopters would pause to simulate a group of ground troops entering or exiting the aircraft. Once given the okay, each person played a critical role in how the aircraft had to maneuver. The crews had to communicate to get the helicopters back in the sky safely.
In the days leading up to the training, the crews learned how to accomplish the mission in an academic setting. They received briefs on the challenges of flying at elevation, reviewed standard operating procedures, and created plans of execution.
It is important to learn about the mission and the challenges in a safe environment, Kumar said. Developing an understanding of the risks before taking flight creates a proactive crew rather than a reactive crew, he continued.
“But it is getting out there and doing it that makes us better,” Kumar said.
Prior explained that aviators need to be proficient in all types of terrain, because Soldiers never know where or when the nation will deploy them. This type of training ensures the Soldiers of the 3rd CAB know how to operate in a diverse array of environments and maintain their skills as a key maneuver asset on a battlefield or during contingency operations.
“We own everything one inch off the ground and up,” he said.