USS NEW ORLEANS, At Sea - Amphibious transport dock ship USS New Orleans (LPD 18) hosted deck-landing qualifications (DLQs) for Marine Corps AH-1Z Cobra attack helicopters during a pre-deployment exercise, Aug. 11.
Declared combat-ready by the U.S. Marine Corps in September 2010, the AH-1Z Cobra will undergo its first operational deployment as part of Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) 5 later this year.
The helicopters are assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 268, part of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit's aviation combat element.
"The whole point of this is to prepare the aircraft to provide support for our guys on the ground," said Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Kelley. "It's a get in, hit the enemy, get out, come back, resupply, and do it again type of aircraft. It's really an awesome piece of gear."
Kelley also stressed the importance of the pilots being able to land the aircraft on multiple platforms.
"LHDs won't be the only ones [capable of carrying the Cobra]," he said. "It might be an LPD, LHA it might even be a frigate, or anything with the landing capabilities, so they need to get their qualifications. It's also important for (handlers) to get familiar with working with this aircraft."
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Kelley Soucy said having the Cobra on board during deployment will present the crew with a variety of new challenges.
"We've never loaded weapons onto aircraft before," she said. "It's a very new experience for us. A lot more precautions are going to be implemented into flight quarters when missions go down because these [aircraft] have a lot of weapons."
Cmdr. Dennis Jacko, commanding officer of New Orleans, said having the Cobra on board provides crewmembers and Marines of the 11th MEU with a unique capability.
"The Zulus offer an unmatched lethality to the Marines," he said. "They carry twice the ordnance, farther and faster than their predecessor, the AH-1W. Coupled with our embarked Marines, a detachment of ACE aircraft gives New Orleans a potent Marine Air Ground Task Force ready for any contingency."
New Orleans has the ability to embark, operate and maintain up to ten aircraft, including the Cobra attack helicopter.
PHIBRON 5, New Orleans and embarked Marines assigned to the 11th MEU, are conducting PHIBRON-MEU Integrated Training (PMINT) as part of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.