View Full Version : Boats that 'fly'

08-30-03, 07:23 AM
Boats that 'fly'
Submitted by: MCB Camp Pendleton
Story Identification Number: 2003828195259
Story by Staff Sgt. Rick Langille

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif.(Aug. 28, 2003) -- The sand explodes from the beach as monstrous crafts, flying 6 feet above the water as seagoing transport vessels, almost effortlessly transform into shore-side ships.

Ships that, upon reaching the beach, open their bellies and regurgitate one of the most lethal cargoes the American military can muster ? Marines and the tools of their trade.

These amphibious vehicles, known as Landing Craft, Air Cushioned and operated here by Assault Craft Unit 5, have been in use by the Navy since their first deployment in 1987. They were developed to satisfy the need for a vehicle capable of carrying troops, artillery, tanks, vehicles and other major items of combat and support equipment across the beach from the water.

Crew members liken riding aboard the aircraft ? which is now being upgraded to generate even more power and carry heavier payloads ? to flying. In fact, they receive flight pay, much like conventional aviators.

Unlike aviators, each five-man crew consists only of enlisted members.

"We're proud of being the only Navy enlisted pilots in charge of a vessel," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Paul Erekson, who trains LCAC crew members for ACU-5 here.

Erekson described what it's like to "fly" aboard an LCAC.

"It's exhilarating to pilot an LCAC. They are the fastest units the Navy has on water or land," Erekson said.

The sense of flight stems from the way the hovercraft is propelled. It zips above the water at 40-plus knots on a cushion of air generated by four centrifugal fans driven by the craft's gas turbine engines.

"It doesn't fly ? it hovers," Erekson said. "It's governed by the same physics as aircraft. The huge lift fans pump air under the boat, filling the skirt, lifting it off the ground. Then the propellers and bow thruster move it around."

While some crew members throw around the term "pilots," it's more accurate to call LCAC operators "craftmasters," he said.

Now, the LCAC is due for an upgrade. The first of the crafts to be produced is now nearing 20 years of service ? a milestone that marks the end of the machine's life span, according to Petty Officer 1st Class Tim J. Solberg, a gas turbine systems electrician and LCAC engineer at ACU-5.

One craft at ACU-5 already has undergone the Service Life Extension Program, said Solberg. The revamping consists of some hull structure changes; installation of a "deep," 6-foot skirt, to replace the original 4-foot skirt, allowing the craft to handle better and carry heavier loads; and the C4N, or command, control, communications, computers and navigation upgrade, which transitions the ship's electronics from analog to digital control.

ACU-5 expects delivery of two more upgraded LCACs in March 2004, Erekson said.

Also included in the upgrade is a new engine. The upgrade allows the LCAC to operate in hotter temperatures and includes variable scatter vanes that give the craft more power. The engine upgrade enables better ship performance in hotter climates.

According to U.S. Navy sources, the engines currently create about 4,000 horsepower each. With four engines, each LCAC currently produces a robust 16,000 horsepower. The new upgrades will allow LCACs to increase their current 60 ton load capacity significantly.

Maj. Gen. Dennis T. Krupp, a former director for the Expeditionary Warfare Decision Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, said the LCACs are responsible for transporting 95 percent of tracked and wheeled vehicles for a Marine Air-Ground Task Force during an amphibious landing. In a statement to the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee's Sea Power Subcommittee, he said:

"The (LCAC) is absolutely crucial to the Navy and Marine Corps team to rapidly provide sufficient forces to achieve our assigned missions."

LCACs have been utilized in military operations around the world since their introduction to the fleet.

In January 1991, four detachments ? totaling 11 hovercrafts ? reported for duty in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm.

In October 1992, three LCACs were deployed to Sasebo, Japan, as Detachment West Pacific Alpha, setting up a forward presence that remains to this day. That same month, three LCACs were deployed to Somalia in support of Operation Restore Hope.

Typically, the hovercraft deploy in detachments consisting of four LCACs that transit aboard Navy amphibious ships.

Recent operations close to home include participation in Exercise Kernel Blitz 2001, the West Coast's largest amphibious exercise, and fighting wildfires on Santa Catalina Island through an agreement between the Navy and the L.A. Fire Department in July 1999. LCACs and sailors from ACU-5 whisk civilian firefighters and equipment to the island when called upon.

The largest deployment of LCACs to date took place most recently in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Several detachments ? 29 hovercraft in total ? reported for duty in the Persian Gulf this year. Seven of those LCACs were part of Detachment Foxtrot from ACU-5. According to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lawrence Jordan, the officer-in-charge of Detachment Foxtrot, this was the first time seven LCACs acted in concert as part of the same detachment.

"The LCAC is the most expeditious platform to move vehicles and Marines to the beach," said Jordan. "And there is no beach out of reach," he added.

Sgt. David Christian and Pfc. Jeremy L. Gadrow contibuted to this story.


Landing Craft, Air Cushioned 44 and LCAC-79 await the green light to launch a mission from the shores of Camp Pendleton. LCACs are responsible for transporting 95 percent of tracked and wheeled vehicles for a Marine Air Ground Task Force during an amphibious landing.
Photo by: Pfc. Samuel B. Valliere