By Spc. Avery Cunningham
172nd Public Affairs Detachment
The Airman's Creed says, "I will never leave an Airman behind." True to their creed, pilots with the 134th Fighter Squadron, 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont Air National Guard, conducted training focused on recovering downed pilots. The Airmen trained in search and rescue operations in Vermont and New York for two weeks, finishing the exercises April 29, 2016.
An HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter with Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment (Air Ambulance), Vermont Army National Guard, simulated rescuing a stranded pilot while F-16s from the 134th FS, 158th FW, escorted the Black Hawk along its route, said Maj. Dan McGuire, an F-16 pilot who simulated the downed pilot in the scenario.
"We supported the Air Guard with their search and rescue training by providing them with a lift asset to drop them off and pick them up, and they escorted us in," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Aaron Mongeon, a Black Hawk pilot, C/3-126th AVN (AA).
An F-16 communicates with the pilot on the ground and provides aerial support while the other F-16 escorts the helicopter into the area while looking for threats to the helicopter, said Capt. Phil Francis, F-16 pilot, 134th FS, 158th FW.
The downed pilot finds his location using equipment from the aircraft. "We plot our position via GPS and visual TACANs (tactical air navigation system)," said McGuire
Once the pilot knows his location, he is able to relay it to the F-16s in the air. "We find the pilot by talking with him on the radio and we also communicate via signals, anything from things we put on the ground to signal flares and smoke," said Francis.
The moment the pilot is located the on-scene commander directs the rescue operation. The on-scene commander coordinates with the pilot on the ground, the helicopter and escort forces to ensure the safe pick-up of the pilot, said McGuire. If any of the service members in the area spots a potential threat, the on-scene commander coordinates between the different forces to avoid or neutralize it.
"I was able to coordinate with the F-16s, and they were able to relay to the [Black Hawk] to amend their route of flight, to avoid an error and delay the pick-up until that threat was neutralized," said McGuire.
The threats are eliminated so the helicopter can safely perform its duty. The F-16 pilots shot down simulated anti-aircraft missiles so the Black Hawk could pick up the people on the ground unharmed, said Mongeon.
After the F-16s eliminate all threats, the helicopter makes it way to the downed pilot. "We would give them the exact coordinates of where the guy is on the ground, and the helicopter would pick him up," said Francis.
From that point the Black Hawk makes it way back to the base, escorted by the F-16s, and completes the mission, marking an end for the exercise. "It was a great exercise; the weather cooperated, and we are really glad we could do a joint Air and Army Guard exercise," said Francis.
Working together, the different forces learned one another's different techniques and strategies. "It's a good experience to see what their procedures and tactics are," said Mongeon. "I think everyone comes out better because of it."
The service members successfully met all their goals.
"It went great," said Francis. "We met our training objective of becoming familiar with the rescort (rescue and escort operation) and the initial on-scene commander role, and we also met our objective of integrating with the Vermont Army National Guard."