Military News

Friday, April 17, 2015

New group, same mission focus

by Senior Airman Stephanie Morris
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

4/14/2015 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The 54th Helicopter Squadron is undergoing a change of leadership and now falls under the newly activated 582nd Helicopter Group.

Activation of this new unit came about as a way for the 54th HS to have a direct line of aviation leadership to the 20th Air Force.

This change will allow the squadron to interact directly with 20th AF aviation experts on aviation centric issues, said Lt. Col. Chris Brady, 54th HS commander.

"The 54th's main mission is to support missile field operations," Brady said. "This includes escorting convoys, conducting security sweeps and providing a deterrence presence in the missile field."

54th HS pilots and flight engineers spend approximately 75 percent of their time conducting security operations in support of the missile field's mission. The rest of their time is spent in training.

"Training is an ongoing activity for our squadron," Brady said. "We are constantly conducting training to ensure that our personnel remain at the top of their game."

While conducting operations in the field, members of the 54th HS provide aerial information in real time to convoys and personnel on the ground. They are able to warn personnel in the field of obstacles that would otherwise impede or slow the mission.

Several aircraft escort convoys and conduct security sweeps along the route simultaneously.

During such operations, aircrew members are required to adhere to stringent safety and mission guidelines such as maintaining safe distances from pedestrians and landmarks.

The UH-1N helicopters used by the squadron have a maximum altitude of 10,000-15,000 feet. A typical crew consists of two pilots and one flight engineer, but security forces members and medical personnel augment the crew depending on mission requirements.

In addition to first aid and survival equipment, the UH-1N is also equipped with search and rescue equipment such as a forward looking infrared camera, a rescue hoist and night vision goggles.

During all missions, safety is a top priority.

"We teach our guys to fly friendly," Brady said. "We are taught to avoid tree lines and obstacles that could pose a danger to the aircraft. We also make every effort to avoid houses, cattle and other populated areas."

During training evaluations, the squadron focuses closely on the crews understanding of safety, judgment and situational awareness. Smart planning and avoidance of obstacles or residential areas are put at the forefront when planning any mission.

The base also ensures that they don't compete with civilian search and rescue assets, Brady said.

"We respond to search and rescue requests in North Dakota and the surrounding states when specialty equipment is needed," said Maj. John Parrish, 54th HS chief of standards and evaluation. "We don't compete with civilian search and rescue teams in the area."

Within the last year the squadron has noticed a steady increase in air traffic in the local area, such as oil field helicopters performing site surveys and other civilian traffic, Parrish said.

Although Minot crews are taught to avoid structures and pedestrians as much as possible, those sharing the airspace are governed by the rules of their particular agency and may have differing policies, Parrish explained.

"We get a lot of support from members of the communities that we operate near," Brady said. "Our squadron's focus is to execute our mission and keep our people trained while minimizing our impact on the community."

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