Echo Helicopter Practices Airbourne Mine Countermeasures - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Echo Helicopter Practices Airbourne Mine Countermeasures in the Gulf

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As technology improves mine threats get more and more sophisticated. So, for the HM-14 Squadron, picking up on things under the water from the air means providing a safe way for ships on the surface.

For three months the largest helicopter in the United States military makes Panama City its home--for good reason.

"This is kind of the birth place of mine warfare," said Lieutenant Commander James Schwarze of the HM-14 Squadron.

The MH-53 Echo Helicopter is a mine tracking machine. Using airborne sonar equipment and tow sleds the HM-14 squadron from Norfolk, Virginia is utilizing the waters of Panama City Beach for it's Joint Gulf Test Range.

"There are simulated mine fields," said Schwarze. "They provide realistic shapes of real world threats, which are very important for our training on the sonar itself."

For a country that has lost more ship tonnage to mine warfare than any other threat, this larger than life chopper acts as an invaluable asset.

"We are the most unique helicopter in the world," said AE1 Stephen Elo. For him the mission of this chopper heavily weighs on maintenance efforts.

"It's a lot of maintenance to keep the aircraft up and running," said Elo. "It's about 55 hours of work for every one hour of flight."

The 28 men that make up HM-14 Squadron's Maintenance Support work through the night to make sure the helicopter can fly against the elements.

"Because we fly over the salt water a lot with the decay and the corrosion and things," said Elo. "So, there is a lot of effort that goes into keeping them up and going everyday."

But, aside from outside threats the choppers also deal heavily in helping the country right here at home.

"During the time in the squadron we do mine counter measures and more often than that what we've been called to do is humanitarian relief," said Lieutenant Eric Quarles.

Most recently the Echo chopper has provided aid during Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Namely, a de watering operation at the statue of liberty. Its shear size allows substantial room for supplies.

"Its support for everyone," said Quarles. "On a general load we can carry up to 18,000 pounds of water, which would be six to eight pallets of water or food, into any kind of environment."

"We can do anything that needs to be done," said Elo. "Whether it be moving personnel, or moving cargo, moving gear, towing something through the water, no one else can do that the way that we do."

After it's training in the Gulf the HM-14 Squadron is scheduled to depart Panama City on the March 15th to head back to Norfolk, Virginia.