From air to sea

A Coast Guard Cutter Healy tie-down team moves in to secure an Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk to the flight deck southwest of Kodiak Island, July 3, 2015.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker.

A Coast Guard Cutter Healy tie-down team moves in to secure an Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk to the flight deck southwest of Kodiak Island, July 3, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker.

Forty-one by 40-feet is the size of the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, a 420-foot polar icebreaker currently deployed to the Arctic. To land a helicopter on the cutter, aircrews and deck crews not only have to manage with a ship that moves forward in the water, but also one that moves with the seas.

Precision and consistent communication between the landing signals officer, helicopter control officer and helicopter aircrew is impetrative for a safe and successful evolution between the two platforms. Flight deck nets down and deck crews ready, the helicopter is motioned in to make its approach. Hand signals center the helicopter as it’s signaled down until tires make contact with the flight deck.

A Coast Guard Cutter Healy tie-down team secures an Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk to the flight deck southwest of Kodiak Island, July 3, 2015.  The crew of the Healy often train with air stations to prepare for real world situations while on deployment.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker.

A Coast Guard Cutter Healy tie-down team secures an Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, MH-60 Jayhawk to the flight deck southwest of Kodiak Island, July 3, 2015. The crew of the Healy often train with air stations to prepare for real world situations while on deployment. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker.

“Safety is our biggest concern, especially during helicopter in-flight refuel, when the helo is tethered by a fuel line to the ship,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Kenny Cook, a Healy landing signals officer. “It’s vital that everyone is on the same page and knows what they’re doing.”

The deck crew is made up of teams who wear color-coded jerseys and life jackets. Yellow is the landing signals officer, purple is for the fuel team, red is the fire team, blue are tie-down team members, white is the medical personnel and green is for onsite observers. The colors are to distinguish the different personnel so identification of deck crew jobs are quick and clear.

From touch-and-goes, to the transferon of gear, to a hover for refuel, these drills are regularly practiced and trained in case of real world scenarios. The Healy crewmembers often practice with various air stations and Coast Guard aircraft, honing in their proficiency for these intricate procedures.

“You can never become complacent,” said Cook. “To be the conductor to this orchestra that’s happening on the flight deck is challenging, but also one that I enjoy and feel confident in doing.”

Assisting with science missions by taking scientists onto the ice, transporting equipment and supporting aerial observations are just a few of the missions that can be conducted through the Healy’s ability to support air operations. Search and rescue is another critical mission that the cutter and aircraft offer through the ability to act as a fast method to transport survivors from the ship to medical personnel ashore.

The helicopter in-flight refuel  technique allows for Coast Guard helicopter crews to safely refuel from a cutter and extend their search and rescue area, a critical component due to the expansive and remote areas of Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker.

“The helicopter in-flight refuel technique allows for Coast Guard helicopter crews to safely refuel from a cutter and extend their search and rescue area, a critical component due to the expansive and remote areas of Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Kelly Parker.”

Healy’s air support is just one of the many components that it provides in the Arctic, along with scientific laboratory space, accommodations for scientists and researchers, oceanographic winches and the job it’s known for, breaking up Arctic ice for safe transit.

Securing a helicopter onto a ship underway is no easy feat. But having a crew that’s proficient and who are able to rely on each other with confidence is the key to successfully complete such a complex maneuver.

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