By Senior Airman Stephanie Serrano
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
C-130 Aircrew delivered precision airdrops helping Army soldiers sharpen their drop zone security skills.
The most recent iteration of GREEN FLAG Little Rock used combat airlift to support the Army’s Pathfinder Course.
The Pathfinder course is a multi-service advanced three-week-course designed to teach military members how to establish and operate helicopter landing zones and drop zones in day and night operations. It also helps hone skills in set up and preparations of sling loads as well as establish and control all three major types of air drops: verbally initiated release system, ground mark release system and computed air release point zones.
“Today we had our students set up a GMRS drop zone, it’s the most tactically secure of all of our drop signals,” said Tech. Sgt. Bertrand Fitzpatrick, a U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army pathfinder school operations instructor. “It’s designed to allow personnel to mark the drop zone accordingly to where there is almost no prior communication required with the aircraft.”
The only information the C-130 crew knew in the scenario was the location of the drop zone. There was no other communication between ground and air.
A Team Little Rock C-130 flew over the designated release point and delivered a single bundle landing within 25 yards from the designated point of impact making it a success.
“When you see an aircraft, especially when there’s little coordination between the ground troops and the plane, and it flies over and puts whatever the item is that they’re dropping. It lands within 25 yards of the designated point of impact. It’s awesome. It shows you the inherent capability of the joint force,” said Fitzpatrick.
One of the most difficult parts of the course is the sling loads hands on training and the drop zones. Sling load training takes place in week one of the course while drop zones are the last portion in week three. In this, trainees are taught to properly rig various items for transport by helicopter, as well as inspect them. Inspecting is critical in making sure it’s safe to fly. The trainees have three chances to pass the test.
“The inspection process is extremely rigorous, this is where we lose 20-30 percent of the class,” said Fitzpatrick.
Drop zones are the last portion of the course before beginning the field training exercise. The drop zone training contains the hardest academic challenges because there is so much data the trainees need to know and account for when directing a plane to drop cargo.
“This is the hardest course to get into for the Army since it’s the most academically challenging,” said Sgt 1st Class Richard Jackson, a 1st Battalion 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment U.S. Army pathfinder instructor. “Only 50 percent of the students graduate the course.”
The Pathfinder Class 703-15 course began with 55 students and graduated with only 22.
The 34th Combat Training Squadron conducts approximately six GREEN FLAG Little Rock missions a year, four of which are mandatory.