As with many missions where lives are at stake, teams often work in pairs. Last week I was allowed a rare opportunity to fly aboard one of the 129th Rescue Squadrons’ HH-60G Pave Hawks and witness some of the skills and maneuvers that they constantly practice when they are called upon to save lives.
Our morning was spent shooting the approaches at Moffett Field, home to the 129th Rescue Wing from the California Air National Guard, and practicing a simulated hoist of a rescue swimmer. But after that was when the fun really began.
After JOLLY92 landed and taxied to the East Parallel, I was hot loaded onto the waiting JOLLY91 and safely strapped in.
After final preflight checks, JOLLY91 and 92 requested take off from NUQ Tower and proceeded on the WOODSIDE ONE departure out towards the pacific coast.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter is used to conduct day or night combat search and rescue, or CSAR, operations into hostile environments to recover downed aircrew or other isolated personnel during war. But locally, the 129th uses their versatile Pave Hawks to aid in civil search and rescue, emergency aeromedical evacuation, disaster relief, and counterdrug activities, such as Team Hawk.
The 129th Rescue Wing’s Counterdrug Task Force detachment, Team Hawk, works closely with local law enforcement agencies in the eradication of illegal narcotics and the clean up of national forests environmentally damaged by marijuana production by utilizing the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, aircrew, pararescuemen and maintainers.
As we flew in tight formation along the coastline, I was reminded of that these pilots and aircrew have to be the ‘best of the best’ to fly these powerful aircraft.
The crews have to be prepared to fly any of a multitude of missions at moments notice. These missions may require low level flying, day or night, formation flying, precision hovering, or the ever demanding air to air refueling.
As we flew in formation, the pilots were having to deal with a multitude of complex situations. Staying in tight formation, the rugged terrain of the California coastline raising and lowering in front of us, being on the lookout for VFR traffic flying in one of the busiest airspace’s in the nation, constant radio calls to air traffic control and the other helo, and a photographer requesting formation changes to get that perfect slot. And naturally, the crews handled all of it with ease and professionalism.
But as every squadron does, the 129th RQS trains like they fly, and flies like they train. The radio calls were brief and to the point, navigation was tack sharp and safety was foremost. And before we knew it, JOLLY91 and 92 were flying over the San Francisco Bay.
There we encountered one of San Francisco’s classic landmarks, the fog. It was like a voluminous sea of cotton. A true treat to see our HH-60G skimming those waves of white with JOLLY92 right next to us.
As we navigated back down the 101, we passed by other classic icons of the Bay Area. It’s no wonder that the 129th RQW is a highly desired place to work. Great people, a wonderful area to live in, and some of the most beautiful skies to fly around. It was truly a beautiful way to see the city from a unique perspective.
As we came back to Moffett Field, the amazing folks at Moffett Base Ops and NUQ Tower, helped coordinate the airspace to get a quick shot of JOLLY92 over Hangars 1, 2, and 3.
A very special thanks to Col. Amos Bagdasarian, Capt Alyson Teeter, TSgt Ray Aquino, the crews of JOLLY91 (Wenthe, Finnerty, Nowaski, Kenney, Rymer, and Bacio) and JOLLY92 (Nguyen, Weidman, Hedin, and Woodward), and the rest of the fine folks at the 129th Rescue Wing for allowing me an opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream of mine and fly with those amazing helicopters that I had been looking up at my whole life.
For the full set of images from these two flight, click here.