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Transport Helicopters in Joint Exercise Release date 13.09.2018
Last week, the IAF participated in a joint aerial exercise alongside the IDF Paratroopers Brigade. IAF transport helicopter squadrons played a significant part in the exercise, performing night flights and transporting massive amounts of combatants, among others
Yael Fuchs

Last week, the IAF participated in a joint exercise alongside the IDF Paratroopers Brigade. Three IAF transport helicopter squadrons played a significant part in the exercise: the 124th ("Rolling Sword") Squadron and the 123rd ("Desert Birds") Squadron which operate "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) helicopters from Palmahim AFB and "Yas'ur" (CH-53) helicopters from Tel-Nof AFB.


Photography: Celia Garion

Unlike previous exercises, this exercise did not supply the transport helicopter squadrons with specified missions. "The exercise wasn't mission-oriented. Our goal was to provide the brigade with the tools to participate in an exercise which includes a large scale of force", said Lt. S', the 123rd Squadron's exercise leader. "It may sound easy but it's no joke. Hundreds of combatants required transportation as part of the exercise. If a helicopter should delay, it would influence the combatants. For example, a delayed helicopter could leave forces stranded deep in enemy territory under threat".


Archive Photo

Heavy Fog
The transport mission included night flight in formation, a complex scenario. "Transporting ground forces into enemy territory in a massive, discrete fashion isn't self-evident", explained Lt. A', the 124th Squadron's exercise leader. "Numerous helicopters sharing the same airspace amount to a large amount of noise. We have to understand how to perform the mission in a way that doesn't expose us to the enemy. The scenarios are low-altitude, flying in mountainous terrain – this is a skill that we helicopter pilots have to learn".

"One day, the area where we were supposed to land was foggy – we couldn't see the ground, so how were we supposed to land the helicopter?", described Lt. S'. "Later on during the night, we realized that maybe we should reach our destination through the coastline instead of the original path seeing as the coastline was at a lower altitude and wasn't as foggy. That's what we ended up doing". Despite the helicopters' existing technology for nocturnal activity, finding solutions to rising challenges is up to the helicopter crew. "You can't rely on technology. That is why we participate in these exercises and study the topic", said Lt. S'. "There is a feeling of general uncertainty in the night. Everything is darker – it requires you to be much more concentrated than usual".


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Difficult Situations
Each battalion personally trained alongside the transport helicopter squadrons in the month prior to the exercise. As part of the preparations, the commando brigade's commander established a field preparation day alongside the squadron commanders led by the IAF Cooperation Unit. Each battalion underwent a personal instruction with a pilot and an airborne mechanic in order to establish extensive interpersonal relationships. In addition, the service members also drilled embarkment and disembarkment – during operational activity, these need to occur in mere seconds.


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"Our mutual dialogue is significant. When a commander from a battalion first encounters a transport helicopter it will probably be in extreme circumstances – whether it be a casualty who needs evacuation or any other wartime scenario", elaborated Lt. A'. "A helicopter is usually loud and the situation can become overly complicated very quickly. As a result, it's important that we establish this discourse early on and answer any question that may come up. As part of the exercise, we purposefully landed in difficult terrain in order to show the ground forces what capabilities we have. Rocky terrain, curved terrain – we can land in many more places than one would think".

"Even after designating a helicopter and a landing point, we may have a hard time locating the specific force we need to get to", elaborated Lt. A'. "The area is enormous, with many brigades each waiting for a different helicopter, and each one looks the same from above: a group of combatants carrying a stretcher waving at you from below. One of the things we worked on during our early preparations was teaching the ground forces how to make themselves stand out".


Photography: Celia Garion

The exercise faced the squadrons with dilemmas and challenges while further strengthening the cooperation between the two forces. "Each one of the helicopter crews encountered an unexpected event even without planning it. These are things we will confront during wartime, and I can safely say that the exercise and our tight cooperation make us more prepared for the moment of truth".