CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
“I grew up right in the flight path of Camp David,” said Erich Lloyd. “I would see the presidential helicopter coming to and from the retreat there, and I remember thinking how I always wanted to fly helicopters.”
In his adolescence the Frederick, Md., native joined the Civil Air Patrol and Young Eagles aviation programs, cementing his interest in aviation. On Oct. 25, 1997, a day after his 17th birthday, Lloyd enlisted in the Marine Corps.
A few months later, Lloyd found his new home at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 769. There he would meet the aircraft that would become the center of his adult life, the Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion, or as Lloyd calls it, “God’s moving truck.”
The Super Stallion is the Marines’ premier heavy-lift helicopter. It is the heaviest and largest helicopter in the U.S. military. It is used to transport cargo and personnel and is also used in tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel missions. As a crew chief for the CH-53E, Lloyd’s duties included performing maintenance on the aircraft, troubleshooting technical issues, assisting with loading personnel and cargo and advising the pilots during flight.
“I liked being a mechanic,” said Lloyd. “I liked getting my hands dirty and being able to problem solve and troubleshoot.
After serving five years as a crew chief, Lloyd left active service as a sergeant and served three years in the Marine Corps Reserve. During this time he began college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Lloyd is again actively serving the Marine Corps, now as a captain and pilot for the Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. Lloyd and his squadron are currently deployed to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.
Although, he is a pilot now, he has not forgotten his time turning wrenches in hangars and providing support in the back of the aircraft.
“The CH-53 is a very maintenance intensive aircraft,” said Lloyd. “Instead of troubleshooting the aircraft, I’m in more of a planner’s position now, worrying more about whether it’s safe to land somewhere rather than the aircraft itself.”
Literally starting at the rear of the aircraft and progressing to the front is an uncommon occurrence that Lloyd said gives him a unique perspective of the aircraft.
“I was able to talk on the radios a lot easier and I understand how systems work, so whenever I get a light up in the cockpit I could troubleshoot problems much easier,” said Lloyd. “I feel a lot better when I get a light and I know exactly what is going on with the bird. Most of our senior pilots are the same way.”
“He’s pretty knowledgeable about the systems on the aircraft,” said fellow pilot, Capt. Anton D. Draganov, who is also deployed to Afghanistan with HMH-461. The two have known each other since they both attended The Basic School for Marine Corps officers in 2006. “If you have a question about the aircraft he more than likely has an answer for it. He’s a good asset and is aggressive in pretty much everything he does. Even with something like doing preflight checks on an aircraft, he’s running around looking for things to make sure everything is good.”
Having a keen eye for the technical aspects of the CH-53E, Lloyd often uses the knowledge he accumulated as a crew chief to inform his fellow pilots of details about the aircraft they may not have known before.
“There have been many occasions where Capt. Lloyd has either taught somebody something or simply pointed out how something should be,” said Draganov. “For example, I know of one instance where he pointed out a discrepancy on a nose gearbox, giving a quick class on how it should be and how it worked.”
Lloyd said that becoming a pilot wasn’t necessarily an improvement over being a crew chief, but rather a way to see the mission from a different angle.
“When I was a crew chief my primary concern was making sure the helicopter could mechanically take off and land without incident and to make sure all the cargo and passengers were loaded safely,” said Lloyd. “As a pilot I get to tactically employ the aircraft and complete the mission by ensuring that troops and cargo get put in zones and taken out safely .”
Lloyd said his main motivation for being a CH-53E pilot are the Marines he supports and that his eventual goal is to be more directly responsible for aiding the Marines on the ground.
“I just love being around the junior Marines,” said Lloyd. “I think when I became an officer I kind of got away from that. The next thing I want to do is go to the ground side and become a forward air controller. I’d like to be more involved with supporting the basic infantryman.”
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