JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
Crew members and ordnance technicians with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-773 (HMLA-773) conducted innovative drooped gun training that will set the standard across the U.S. Marine Corps Dec. 1, 2017 here.
A drooped gun is a malfunction that occurs when an AH-1W SuperCobra 20 mm Gatling gun does not stow in its turret when landing. It’s a rare occurrence but can cause significant structural damage to aircraft and injury to crew members if not properly corrected.
The procedures to fix a drooped gun have previously not been standardized across the Marine Corps, and ordnance technicians with HMLA-773 have worked for the last year to create a safe, efficient method that can now be implemented in other light attack helicopter squadrons.
“When you encounter it for the first time, you kind of just have to figure out what you’re going to do with it,” said Marine Master Sgt. Patrick Lapointe, HMLA-773 ordnance chief and mastermind behind this training evolution, about the first time he encountered a drooped gun. “We were out on [an exercise], an aircraft came back from the range with a drooped gun… and live ordnance. We went under and were able to pull the gun up using our belts.”
His goal was to arm his Marines with a safer method.
The new procedure requires a safety observer to manually clear the gun of ammunition, followed by two ordnance technicians threading a cargo strap through the Gatling gun on a hovering aircraft and pulling up on the gun as the aircraft slowly lands.
“It’s really windy,” joked Marine Sgt. Andrew Lucas Whipple, HMLA-773 aviation ordnance technician and quality assurance observer, about maneuvering under the hovering aircraft. “It can be dangerous, but we do so much training that it’s just second nature to us.”
It’s a risky procedure if not done precisely, particularly when it occurs during real-world scenarios involving live ordnance. Prior to the practical training, ordnance technicians held safety briefings and spent the previous year performing drills on static aircraft.
“We would drop the gun down and walk through how it would be done in the air,” Whipple said. “We probably did that 50 to 100 times. It all paid off in the end, we were all ready for it and we all knew exactly what to do as soon as it was game time.”
A training video, along with detailed instructions, will now be distributed throughout Marine Corps’ aviation units to ensure safety and standardization.
“When it happens for real, it’s going to be at night, on goggles, the Marines probably aren’t going to have the appropriate equipment with them, they’re going to be unprepared in a field environment, probably in the desert,” said Marine Maj. Jason Graul, HMLA-773 aircraft maintenance officer. “That’s why we’re trying to put these standards in place across the Marine Corps so that the squadrons are prepared when it happens live.”