Saturday, September 26, 2009

Brigadier General Observes Helo Operations Aboard NAS Pensacola

Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Sellars, commander of the Massachusetts Army National Guard observes five UH-60 Mike-variant helicopters from the Massachusetts National Guard conduct flight-deck landing qualifications aboard the Helicopter Landing Trainer (HLT IX-514) Baylander as part of a training evolution prior to their overseas deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mike O'Connor/Released)

By Mike O’Connor, Naval Air Station Pensacola

PENSACOLA, Fla. (NNS) -- Commander, Massachusetts Army National Guard visited NAS Pensacola's (NASP) Helicopter Landing Trainer (HLT IX 514) Baylander to observe flight operations Sept. 17.

Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Sellars was able to visit the trainer's fully Navy-certified flight deck, which is modeled after a frigate's flight deck.

Baylander, which is unique in its mission, provides flight-deck landing qualifications as a helicopter landing trainer. The training ship was laid down as a militarized version of a commercial coastal lighter, built for carrying cargo. It was utilized by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and was converted to a helicopter landing trainer in 1986.

Sellars watched as five UH-60 Air National Guard helicopters carried out shipboard landing qualifications prior to a deployment overseas.

After a series of successful touch-and-go landings in windy, rainy weather, Brig. Gen. Sellars' UH-60 Air National Guard helicopters landed on the trainer.

The general then met with Capt. Bob Yost, Baylander's master, and Lt. Michael Frost, NASP Port Operations officer, for a tour of the ship.

"This has been a tremendous experience," Sellars said while on board the Baylander. "The fact that we're able to do joint operations between the Army and the U.S. Navy. The folks at Pensacola and the HLT have just been fantastic hosts; they have always placed the needs of the Soldiers that are training above the needs of any other requirement. It's a great opportunity for my people to train in a skill that will be required once they mobilize and get into theater that I cannot replicate at home."

Every Tuesday, the Baylander lands helicopters from three local squadrons, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL) 8, HSL 18 and HSL 28. More recently, Metson Marine Services, which operates the Navy-owned ship, has been providing inter-service training support to the FBI, DEA and Homeland Security, according to Frost.

"When they're not using [the Baylander], it's up for lease, basically. So various organizations, such as the Coast Guard, Army, Air Force and National Guard make use of it as part of their training curriculum," Frost said. "For the HLT, it's very routine. We get about 560 landings a month. Only the customer changes."

NASP's Baylander also recently provided flight deck landing qualification training for the Connecticut National Guard.

The Baylander, which logged its 100,000th safe landing in 2006, has since increased that number to more than 113,000 safe landings.