Contributor(s): Staff Sergeant GIBBONS, S, Lieutenant Mikhail Palmer
Subject: The JDF Air Wing, Going Further, Giving Back
As the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) transitions into Brigade formations, the JDF Air Wing’s Number 2 Flight is grateful. Before the Formations were ever conceived, our helicopter fleet consisted of Eurocopter AS350Ns, Bell 412 aircraft and Bell 407 aircraft for operations with Bell 206 aircraft for pilot training. Among our operational roles were Search and Rescue (SAR), Troop and VIP Transportation, Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) and Underslung Firefighting (Bambi Bucket) missions.
Now, as a critical component of the Maritime Air and Cyber Command (MACC) and with the rationalization of the JDF Air Wing helicopter fleet, we are using a multimission platform, the Bell 429. This is a state-of-the-art helicopter that boasts new features, such as the electronically deployable hoist mechanism. The aircraft also has an advanced instrument panel which consists of electronic flight instrument displays, rather than traditional analog gauges.
With the upgraded platform, new challenges have arisen and members of the Unit have quickly adapted with training. One new challenge we face as a result of the transition is reduced cabin space during SAR operations. The Bell 412 had enough cabin space to effectively rescue up to six (6) persons at once, whereas the Bell 429 can only facilitate the rescue of one (1) person at a time. Another challenge is the reduced volume of water carried by each Bell 429 during underslung firefighting operations as a result of a smaller Bambi bucket.
Though we may not have the Bell 412 to move thirteen (13) persons at once and though we may have a smaller underslung load, we have mitigated these deficiencies through fine tuning of our Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and through effective leveraging of the number of Bell 429s available. Looking back at where we are coming from with the old fleet and where we are now, we are very certain that the Formation and Unit will continue to meet Force and National expectations of mission capability, competence and success.
Notwithstanding the challenges, the changes have also brought with them advantages. We previously had three (3) platforms with which we engaged in operations. However, we occasionally encountered challenges because of aircraft maintenance. The new fleet provides an advantage, in that the Bell 429 platforms are cutting edge, easier to maintain and allow a more streamlined logistical process since it surrounds one common operational aircraft.
For any mission to be successful, the Unit is well aware that training is paramount. This is especially true since our Flight has increased in numbers both in regard to the number of aircraft and in regard to the number of Aircrewmen engaged in operations. We have a saying in the JDF, ‘Train hard, Fight easy’. As such, we have made several changes to how we conduct training. Pilots and Aircrewmen continue to maintain their proficiencies at the requisite periods in order to maintain the operational synergy and effectiveness expected by Jamaican citizens.
With over 17 years of experience in aviation, I share my experience with the younger aircrewmen by conducting Aircrewman courses at all levels of classification. I also have discussions with them to understand what they are facing as they conduct training and execute missions. I view this as a great opportunity to share my experience and engage with them so they have better understanding of their mission. I believe that experience teaches wisdom and the more we understand the mission, the better the atmosphere for Crew Recourse Management (CRM) and safety. Our intent, regardless of the challenges we face, is to continue to support higher command’s intent through the conduct of effective airborne operations. This, as we operate not just for Jamaica, but the Caribbean at large. ‘We Fly For All’.