The High Endurance Life: Tying Down the Bird

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst

Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau crewmembers and the aircrew of CG-6577, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter based at Air Station Barber’s Point in Honolulu, roll the helicopter across the cutter’s flight deck in preparation for takeoff while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 29, 2014. Observers stand by while others traverse the helicopter across the deck to ensure the operation is completed in a safe manner. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau crewmembers and the aircrew of CG-6577, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter based at Air Station Barber’s Point in Honolulu, roll the helicopter across the cutter’s flight deck in preparation for takeoff while underway in the Pacific Ocean April 29, 2014. Observers stand by while others traverse the helicopter across the deck to ensure the operation is completed in a safe manner. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Cutting a straight course through the rolling swells and steady wind of the Pacific Ocean, the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau is a speck of white in a world of blue. The 378-foot, Honolulu-based cutter is loaded to the brim with tools required to conduct an entire spectrum of Coast Guard missions. From the radar equipment on the mast to the small boats cradled on each side, every piece has a role to play.

On this particular patrol there is an extra machine aboard. From the deck of the vessel juts an enormous square structure. Inside sits a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, a big orange bird in a bigger metal cage. The Dolphin and its Air Station Barber’s Point-based crew of five are embarked aboard the cutter to support operations on a this patrol. The deployment, a symbiotic relationship, provides the crew of the Morgenthau with extended search and rescue and law enforcement capabilities in exchange for an airport capable of moving to the mission area, relative stability, impressive fuel storage and support team the cutter lends to the Dolphin crew.

Seaman Brian Walkinhood, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau deck department, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeff Moeschler, an aviation electrical technician at Air Station Barber’s Point, remove chain tie-downs connecting an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to the flight deck of the Morgenthau. During deployments, Coast Guard aircrews become part of a cutter’s crew. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Seaman Brian Walkinhood, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau deck department, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeff Moeschler, an aviation electrical technician at Air Station Barber’s Point, remove chain tie-downs connecting an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to the flight deck of the Morgenthau. During deployments, Coast Guard aircrews become part of a cutter’s crew. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

The door to the hangar begins to rise, and a team of crewmembers, all clad in blue jerseys and vests, clamber into the hangar. They remove the chains, leaving in place the four primary straps. The hangar retracts. At two chirps of a whistle, the last straps are removed and the helicopter moves gradually backward under the power of eight pairs of steadily marching feet and the watchful eyes of multiple safety observers. The whistle blows again and the rolling stops. The straps are quickly reapplied, and the helicopter is in place for takeoff.

Inside the hangar and nearby passageway a gathering is taking place. This group, wearing red vests and jerseys, is the fire team. They are prepared for the worst. More than prepared, the team trains for a crash regularly, and the training shows. Fire hoses line the ship, leading back to the flight deck. Despite their confined situation, every member of the team waits vigilantly for an emergency situation, or more probably, a drill to test their response efforts.

Seaman Earl Gerrido, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau deck department, watches as an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter approaches the cutter’s flight deck while underway in the Pacific Ocean near Honolulu April 26, 2014. Cutter personnel take on the collateral helicopter tie-down duty to assist during flight operations.

Seaman Earl Gerrido, a member of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau deck department, watches as an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter approaches the cutter’s flight deck while underway in the Pacific Ocean near Honolulu April 26, 2014. Cutter personnel take on the collateral helicopter tie-down duty to assist during flight operations.

Back outside the hangar the action is picking back up. Rotor blades, that were previously folded back to allow the helicopter to fit in the hangar, are in their proper place for takeoff. The aircrew is running through their checklists and preparing for flight.

Surrounded by the all-blue tie-down team, a crewmember in yellow provides a brief for the upcoming operation. She is the landing safety officer, the pivotal relay between the cutter’s bridge and the aviation personnel on the flight deck. With everyone up to speed on the plan, they take their positions and the blades of the Dolphin begin to move. Faster and faster they spin, the noise growing to a roar. The pilot signals the LSO, who turns to her tie-down crew and spurs them into motion.

In a controlled burst, they rush from both sides of the hangar out across the flight deck. In almost perfect synchronization the two streams of tie-down members cut in toward the helicopter, surrounding it. They poise over the straps, eager to remove them with practiced speed and accuracy. The LSO gives the signal: one hand sliding from the opposite shoulder down the arm. The straps are off almost instantly and the tie-down crewmembers retrace their steps back to the relative safety of the hangar walls.

In the satisfying culmination of so much work and preparation, the wheels of the Dolphin slowly lift from the flight deck. The helicopter climbs up and away from the moving cutter.

Only halfway done with their job, the team prepares the straps for the helicopter’s return. They’ll be ready to tie down the bird.

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