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Eye in the Sky: Special Missions Aviators

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- When a UH-1N Iroquois assigned to the 54th Helicopter Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota leaves the ground, it takes more than just a pilot and copilot to keep the aircrew and aircraft safe.

Special missions aviators are essential to accomplishing this mission. Before the aircraft leaves the ground, they thoroughly run through their checklists to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We perform pre-flight inspections of the aircraft and equipment,” said Staff Sgt. DeMario Greene, 54th HS special missions aviator. “We inspect everything to provide a smooth flight.”

Greene, a UH-1N systems expert, calculates takeoff and landing data, and is in charge of assisting the pilot in analyzing and diagnosing any issues that may arise. As a flight engineer, he is also in charge of maintaining situational awareness on electrical, fuel and rotor systems, or anything else that could possibly malfunction.

“In the event of an emergency, I work with the pilots to safely land the aircraft,” said Greene. “We practice how we play, so we can keep calm and safely get the crew on the ground.”

According to Staff Sgt. Dan Vehslage, 54th HS special missions aviator, they like to think of themselves as backseat drivers. They are responsible for backing the pilots on gauges – meaning, the need to understand the relation between gauges and the corresponding parts of the aircraft. This allows for pilots to focus on the operational aspect – flying the helicopter.

Special missions aviators are a vital component to Minot’s mission, especially when working with the 91st Missile Wing to protect Airmen and assets in the 8,500 square miles of missile complex.
“We fly security sorties to back our maintainers and defenders on the ground,” said Vehslage. “We can see a lot more from the air and act as a deterrent by being over head.”

The Special missions aviators here, are the link between the tactical response force defenders and the 54th HS pilots for transportation to protect missile fields. They coordinate with defenders on-site, acting as an extra set of tactical eyes and ears for the pilots.

“We enable TRF to back security forces up,” said Vehslage. “It’s a team effort to put Airmen where they need to be on the ground.”

Special missions aviators are trained experts in the aircraft’s numerous functions. They’re the face of the aircrew with maintainers to keep the aircraft functioning properly from pre-flight to touch down.

“I like being a special missions aviator because the mission keeps me on my toes,” said Greene. “We have a great responsibility at Minot – we protect people.”

Vehslage agreed that the best thing about being aircrew is how much responsibility they are charged with.

“Also, the best view of North Dakota is from the air,” said Vehslage.
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