While going through some old photographs the other day I came across several from a training exercise that I participated in back in 2005 on Fort Campbell.  The base is home to the 101st Airborne and 5th Special Forces Group (where I later served) but 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment also resides there.  At the time, I was in 3rd Ranger Battalion and our entire battalion was conducting a rotary wing training exercise, using the same helicopters we would have available in future deployments and running what were essentially rehearsals for the types of missions we were already running in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The 160th pilots flew their helicopters just outside their compound into a large field were we would stage for training missions.  The pilots started by introducing the airframe, the flying black egg of death, or more accurately a highly modified MD500D helicopter with a whole lot of special components that are made specially for 160th.  The aircraft familiarization concluded and soon we got started.

I was in sniper section at the time and it was anticipated that the Little Birds would be used to insert us into objective areas to cover for Ranger assaulters or that we would be used as aerial platform interdiction, as we had just on my previous deployment.  That is one of those experiences that you never really forget.  Snap linking myself into the side pod of the helicopter, the pilot lifted off and we shot through the cold winter night.  I can still remember hovering over and Afghan compound, watching through green tinted night vision with an SR-25 laying in my lap.  The Rangers on the ground captured their high value target, making the pilot on my Little Bird a happy man as it was his last combat mission before he would go to train new pilots at the simulator after this.

Back at Fort Campbell, the pilots took us up for a ride and I managed to snap a couple pictures with my crappy disposable camera.

The next day we flew out to an area where the pilots practiced a number of different insertion techniques on urban training mockups, more hair-raising than others.  First we had to learn how to fast rope from Little Birds.  As Rangers, we were all well acquainted with fast roping from Black Hawks and Chinooks, but as snipers we may have to fast rope from the Little Birds if they were unable to land for some reason.

Because of the external pod that you sit on, there are some aspects of fast roping that are unique to the aircraft.  The rope is tied off to a hard point above the pod, but then the rope rests against the side of the pod.  If you just grab the rope and slide down, your hands will hit the lip of the pod and you’ll most likely lose your grip, falling 30 feet or so to the ground.  On the other hand, fast roping isn’t so bad when it is just you up there rather than an entire Ranger platoon packed into a MH-47.

Another insertion technique I learned for the first time that day was when the pilots explained that they might not always be able to land directly on a rooftop because of obstructions, like radio antennas for example.  If this was the case, the pilots could gently ease the front of the skids to a rest on the lip of the roof.  Rangers (0r operators) on the external pods would then scoot their way forward and actually climb down off the aircraft to the roof for a successful insertion.