Transporting the wounded in Iraq.
- By Christopher Ryan
- Air & Space magazine, April 2013
Nicole Fruges / San Antonio Express-News / Zumapress.com
(Page 2 of 3)
As I strap into my seat, a lieutenant rides by on a bicycle, stopping to ask the crew chief if the aircraft is hoist-capable, probably for some bean-counting administrative tasking from headquarters.
“Clear!” I shout.
We are not yet on intercom, nor are we wearing earplugs and helmets. Shouting does the trick for crew communications, and sometimes wakes up people who are wandering about the flightline in a daze. Plus it sounds kinda cool.
“Clear!” the crew chief shouts back, meaning there is nobody on the left side of the aircraft, by the auxiliary power unit, which will soon be quite warm and loud.
I flip on the switch for the APU. It runs the electrical systems that would otherwise be powered by the aircraft engines, and provides the compressed-air to start the engines themselves. It’s the loud jet engine noise you hear on airliners sitting at the gate, and on larger helicopters whose rotor blades are not turning.
The APU is lit and howling as a medic runs up to the aircraft, bag and rifle in hand, and begins the same dressing sequence. We’ll have to shout louder over the noise. I am flipping switches and turning on radios in sequence with the checklist. The pilot in command is still in operations, getting updates and figuring a course that will keep us clear of any friendly operations and airspace. We’d hate to fly through anybody’s firefight or air strike on the way to pick up the injured, though it happens occasionally—mostly to those who don’t get updates.
“Where we going?” I ask the medic.
“Warhorse,” he answers. Great.
Forward Operating Base Warhorse. It’s near Baqubah, at one time the hangout of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, once Al Qaeda’s leader in Iraq before the U.S. Air Force delivered him a pair of 500-pound bombs one evening in 2006.
I punch up the navigation system preset for Warhorse so the destination will be loaded when we take off. The pilot in command arrives, with sticky-note updates, and begins dressing. A couple of hundred feet away, an identical crew dance is happening in our chase aircraft.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I gesture a request to start the engines: the pilot nods. “Clear one.” The crew chief verifies it is clear. The GE turboshaft engine, with its near-2,000 horsepower, fires up with a low moan. The blades begin to turn. The second the number-one engine starter switches off, I am clearing the number-two engine. In a minute, both engines are started and the aircraft systems are beginning to stabilize. Our chase aircraft will not be far behind us in the start sequence; I can see its blades turning. When chase is ready to go, the crew transmits the code word over the radio. We acknowledge and are already calling the air traffic control tower as we go light on the tires. “Tower, Alamo 10, flight of two UH-60s, request immediate departure Alpha Bravo, urgent MEDEVAC.”
“Alamo 10, cleared for immediate departure, report Bravo.”
In the combat environment, locations and directions of departures and arrivals are encoded—indecipherable to anyone monitoring the radio who does not have a current airfield diagram. No sense making it easy for the bad guys to figure out where we are going.