Eyes in the Sky: Helicopter Squadron's diverse training aids in mission success

Major Ronald Frantz, Commander of the 76th Helicopter Squadron here, surverys the ground as he flys over Vandenberg. More than 60 percent 76th HS 1273 flying hours are spent training in a year.

Maj. Ron Frantz, 76th Helicopter Squadron commander, surverys the ground as he flys over Vandenberg. More than 60 percent of the 76th HS' 1273 annual flying hours are spent training.

Staff Sgt. Adam Lasher, a former flight engineer for the 76th Helicopter Squadron, does a preflight check to ensure the helicopter is air worthy.

Staff Sgt. Adam Lasher, a former flight engineer for the 76th Helicopter Squadron, does a preflight check to ensure the helicopter is air worthy.

A crew from the 76th Helicopter Flight train using practices rescue techniques off the central coast of California. The 76th HF provides fire suppression post-launch disaster control and local wildland vegetation management.

A crew from the 76th Helicopter Squadron practices rescue techniques off the central coast of California. The 76th HS provides fire suppression post-launch disaster control and local wildland vegetation management.

A crew from the 76th Helicopter Flight train using practices rescue techniques off the central coast of California. The 76th HF provides fire suppression post-launch disaster control and local wildland vegetation management.

A crew from the 76th Helicopter Flight train using practices rescue techniques off the central coast of California. The 76th HF provides fire suppression post-launch disaster control and local wildland vegetation management.

Huey soars above the cloudy skies of Vandenberg on a training mission.

A 76th Helicopter SquadronHuey soars above the cloudy skies of Vandenberg on a training mission.

Huey soars above the cloudy skies of Vandenberg on a training mission.

A 76th Helicopter SquadronHuey soars above the cloudy skies of Vandenberg on a training mission.

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Whether they are fighting fires, rescuing the stranded or lost, sweeping the base for trespassers or helping to search and destroy millions of dollars worth of illegal marijuana, members of the 76th Helicopter Squadron are constantly in the air. Being in the air is where they are most comfortable.

While the 76th's primary mission is to aid in base security before and during launches, it is also diversely qualified to ensure success in many other missions.

"Our primary mission is, of course, base and range security, support and protection," said Maj. Ron Frantz, 76th HS commander. "Equally important is launch security. This is security of a specific site and its surrounding area, including sometimes as much as 30 miles out to sea."
Other missions include fire suppression, search and rescue, medical evacuations, convoy operations, aerial photography, Joint Task Force-North counter drug operations and space shuttle support.

"We're the most diversely qualified UH-1 unit in the Air Force," Major Frantz said.
The Joint Task Force-North mission is a counter-drug task force which performs search and seizures of illegal marijuana. In the last year, the 76th HS has detected more than 48,000 plants worth more than $250 million."

Due to Vandenberg's close proximity to the ocean, the 76th HS holds training in various search and rescue techniques including both water and land retrieval.

Recently, there was a call from someone off the coast of Vandenberg who reported seeing a capsized boat with people floating around it. While the report turned out to be unfounded, there was a member of the 30th Security Forces Squadron who had fallen down a ravine during the search and broke his leg. The 76th HS was able to divert its search for the boat and turn its efforts toward rescuing the security forces troop.

The helicopter crew was able to locate the man and lower a doctor down in a sling to prepare the man for retrieval. The doctor and the patient were then hoisted back into the helicopter. The doctor was then able to perform the necessary medical aid until the injured man was transported to a local hospital.

"It was exciting," said Capt. Kurt Ponser, the aircraft commander for the mission. "During those missions, everything is very chaotic. That's why we use our training so we can slow things down a bit and do it correctly."

To maintain qualifications to support these various missions, the 76th HS has to complete many hours of training per year.

"Out of a total of 1273 flying hours per year, more than 60 percent is taken up in training," Major Frantz said.

That training allows the 76th HS to have continued success in all aspects of its missions.