MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Four U.S. Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra pilots with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 263 (Reinforced), 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), had the opportunity to fire AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles off the coast of Jacksonville, N.C., Aug. 27, 2013, as part of the squadron’s preparation for the MEU’s 2014 deployment.
The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing receives a small number of Sidewinders to distribute to its squadrons for training each year, but VMM-263 (Rein.) was allowed to use some of them due to its approaching deployment as the MEU’s aviation combat element.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Capt. Brett Collins, squadron Cobra section leader and native of Portland, Ore. “There’s a big to-do about who gets to be in the flight to fire them. There’re plenty of pilots who go their entire careers without firing one.”
While Collins and Maj. Daniel Parrott were already slated for the flight, the rest of the pilots had to compete to earn the two remaining copilot positions. The squadron made the decision based on a written test, which Collins created for the occasion.
The two highest scoring pilots, Capts. Brandon Showers and Nicholas Lewis, won the remaining seats.
The pilots flew two Cobras 30 miles off the coast of Onslow Bay before firing one missile from each helicopter.
“We also had an [MV-22] Osprey drop off the parachute flare instead of a [UH-1Y] Huey or Cobra,” commented Collins. “This way, the Osprey pilots got their training requirement for dropping battlefield illuminations. We really maximized training.”
Sidewinders lock onto the heat signature of the flare, so Hueys and Cobras normally have to drop them at higher altitudes to allow the helicopters more time to move out of the way of the missile, said Collins. That wasn’t necessary with the Ospreys, which are much faster.
“I would say, from a MEU perspective, we now have four people with this capability,” said Collins. “That comes into play for defending the ships at a further range.”
Collins noted that it’s important for some of the Cobra pilots to be qualified to use Sidewinders, since they are the Cobras’ only air-to-air weapon.
The MEU’s deployment will take it to the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force capable of conducting amphibious missions across the full range of military operations.