Note: this is part of a series about America’s first counterterrorism unit. You can read part one here. Blue Light participated in a number of major training exercises that were run by the REDCOM staff in conjunction with the Ranger battalions. These were called CT-EDREs. These training missions took place across America, some of them including multiple objectives within the target area, but all of them including an aircraft takedown because this was the biggest terrorist threat facing America at the time—or at least this was the perception of policy-makers.

The basic template used was for a Ranger battalion to static-line parachute into the area of operations and silently form a security cordon around the target aircraft. Then, a Blue Light team would conduct a High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) free-fall jump and land inside the security perimeter created by the Rangers.

General Hennessey, the REDCOM commander, had given his staff a directive to put together a comprehensive study of all aircraft hijackings, focusing particularly on the PLO’s mass aircraft hijacking in 1970. Another case study was the French Foreign Legion and Belgian Para-Commando rescue mission undertaken in Zaire in May of 1978, in which 2,250 expats were evacuated during the course of a seven-day gun battle.

In February of the same year, PLO terrorists hijacked a plane in Cyprus. Egyptian commandos attempted to storm the plane, only to come under fire from the Cypriot National Guard. REDCOM’s analysis was that, “Egyptian emotions overcame logic and good planning,” and that Cypriot authorities were sympathetic to the PLO to the point that they quietly moved their National Guard into a concealed position to ambush the Egyptians if they attempted to intervene (Lenahan, 12). The tail number of the aircraft was 777, which became the numbered designation of the counterterrorism unit subsequently created by the Egyptian military.

One of the CT-EDREs took place in Indian Springs, Nevada, where Mark Boyatt had his men execute the first HALO mass tactical jump, meaning he put a large group of 25 free-fall jumpers off the ramp of a C-130 at once.  When preparing for the excercise, one Special Forces soldier expressed skepticism, saying, “This will never work.”

Colonel Mountel simply smiled at him and replied, “Want to bet money?”

Mountel had supreme confidence in his Green Berets, placing a special trust in them which, in turn, inspired a lot of loyalty in his men.

Second Ranger Battalion, led by Lt. Col. Wayne Downing, jumped into the exercise first. Moving quietly through the night, the Rangers walked several miles before forming a donut-shaped security perimeter around the target aircraft. The 2/75 Rangers showed a lot of stamina, one of them even moving to the target area with a broken leg. The 25-man Blue Light element then jumped in, guiding their MC-3 parachutes inside the security position before taking down the aircraft. They jumped wearing tennis shoes, since that was the preferred type of footwear for climbing up on the wings of an airplane without sliding around or making too much noise. In most cases, an actual Boeing 727 or 737 was used as a training aid, so no explosive breaches were permitted—not that those techniques had even been developed yet.