A group of UH-60
Blackhawk pilots from the Army’s 4th Battalion, 123rd
Aviation Regiment flew aboard four Navy ships in the Gulf of Alaska
June 4-5 to practice their shipboard landing skills. After coming
aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain (CG 57),
battalion commander Army Lt. Col. Randy Rotte said landing on ships
is “high adventure” for the Army helicopters
“We land in some pretty hairy places, but one of the
constants is they’re all standing still,” he said.
“It might be really dusty, it might be really snowy, but
they’re all standing still. Now, it’s not standing
The Fort Wainright, Alaska,-based battalion is training for a
possible deployment to Kuwait later this year. If they are selected
to deploy, there’s a good chance the pilots will have to land
on ships in the Persian Gulf to move cargo or people.
Blackhawk pilot Army Chief Warrant Officer Lewis D. Thomas said
he and his fellow Soldiers were grateful to have the chance to
practice their skills on Lake Champlain; destroyers USS Howard (DDG
83) and USS Milius (DDG 69); and frigate USS Ford (FFG 54). He said
everything about the mission was new to him, right down to the
special suit and emergency oxygen source he had to wear in case he
ended up in the water.
“This is the only time we ever come over the ocean.
Normally, we always fly over land," Thomas said. "In fact, this is
my first time out at sea. The ship is all new to me,” he
said, while touring Lake Champlain June 5.
A day earlier, Lt.
Cmdr. Lou Rutledge, Lake Champlain air boss and Helicopter
Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 46, Det. 4 officer in charge, trained
instructor pilots from the regiment on shipboard landing
“Today, those same instructor pilots are coming out to
instruct others,” Rutledge said. He was in Lake
Champlain’s air traffic control tower the second day,
watching Army pilots land and giving them pertinent information as
the landing signals officer. Rutledge said his primary concern was
that the wheelbase of a Blackhawk is wider than the base of a
Seahawk. The Blackhawk also lacks the probe device found on the
underside of a Seahawk that mechanical jaws operated by the flight
deck crew grab to hold the aircraft on deck.
“I told the air crew, ‘I need to know if the tail
wheel is on (the deck). I need to know.’ It’s all I was
worried about,” Rutledge said.
According to Thomas, the Army pilots were also a little worried
about landing Blackhawks on Navy ships.
“It’s very challenging, but it’s a great
opportunity. (Landing on a ship) is probably one of the most
difficult maneuvers we’ve ever done because our landing field
is moving, and we’re used to landing on the ground,” he
Thomas said he hopes his regiment is selected for the year-long
tour in Kuwait, and he’s glad to get ahead in inter-service
training in case the Army does select them.
“It was a good learning experience for us, too, seeing how
the Army flies,” said Ford Air Boss Lt. Cmdr. James A. Gordon
of Helicopter Support Squadron Light (HSL) 49, who also trained
instructor pilots June 4.
“They were obviously experienced pilots,” he said.
“They did a good job (landing on the ships). They had a lot
of Navy questions, but they took to it very quickly.”
“We’re really grateful for (the Navy) providing us
with this opportunity,” Thomas added. “I know we make a
lot of inter-service jokes, but we’re all on the same
The San Diego-based Lake Champlain, Milius and Howard, as well
as the Everett, Wash.,-based Ford, are in the Gulf of Alaska to
participate in the annual Northern Edge air exercise as part of the
USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) strike group. [ANN Thanks Journalist
1st Class (SW) Andrea J. Leahy, Navy Public Affairs Center San