Some 50,000 troops, tens of thousands of vehicles, and all their gear and supplies have descended on Norway, where they’re taking part in Trident Juncture, NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War.
Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen are jetting around Norway and through the air over the Baltic and Norwegian seas during the exercise, which NATO says is purely to practice defending an alliance member from attack.
Also present at the exercise is one of the mainstays of US Army aviation: The CH-47 Chinook helicopter, which has ferried troops and supplies to and from battlefields since the Vietnam War.
Below, you can see what one Chinook pilot says are the most rewarding – and most demanding – parts of the job.
The Chinook has been the transport workhorse of Army aviation since it entered service in the early 1960s. It has been upgraded in the years since and remains the Army’s primary heavy-duty troop and supply aircraft.
“I’d have to say there’s nothing bad about being a Chinook pilot,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Waitman Kapaldo, a US Army aviation tactical-operations officer.
“The best thing is supporting the ground force — to see the guys infilling them into a battle position, giving the manoeuvre space for the commander and a ground force,” he added in a NATO interview in Norway during Trident Juncture.
The main variant of the Army’s Chinook, the CH-47, was originally fielded in Vietnam, but modifications in the decades since have increased the helicopter’s lift and airworthiness in combat.
One of the most recent upgrades was the CH-47F standard, which involved installing new digital cockpit features and modifications to the airframe to reduce vibrations, which can harm the aircraft and its crew and passengers.
“I have had people get on the edge of getting sick and getting disoriented,” said Kapaldo, who told interviewers his longest flight in the Chinook lasted seven hours. “At that point it’s important for my crew to let me know that’s going on so I can fix what I’m doing and make everyone else feel a little better.”
While Kapaldo couldn’t point to a bad part of piloting the Chinook, he was able to describe one kind of operation that was the most fun.
“The most enjoyable flight portion of flying the Chinook is doing a two-wheel pinnacle,” he said.
During pinnacle landings, “we land on top of the mountaintop and only put the ramp and the two wheels on the ground and have troops run off the back as the front of my helicopter is hanging off a cliffside,” he said.
But the transport role also brings complications, Kapaldo said, specifically operations where the helicopter is loaded with cargo while it’s already airborne.
“I would say the most difficult and dangerous manoeuvre that we do is doing sling-load operations,” Kapaldo said.
Those type of operations are particularly worrisome, he said, because “we have soldiers hooking up a load from underneath the helicopter as I’m hovering several feet above their head, and to think that 50 pounds of force can come down on them if I don’t do my job.”
Nevertheless, he said, the role he had in putting troops into battle and keep them supplied for the fight was an edifying one.
“It’s just a great feeling at the end of the day, knowing that I get to shape the battlefield from a Chinook.”