MOFFETT FEDERAL AIRFIELD, Calif. --
Air National Guardsmen from the 129th Rescue Wing assisted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Feb. 17-18 by transporting critically needed facility batteries to the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge.
Two HH-60G Pave Hawk
helicopters, aircrews, and logistics personnel were part of the operation to transport 48 photovoltaic batteries, each weighing 300 pounds. Photovoltaic batteries collect light energy from the sun and convert it into an electrical current.
"The batteries power all of the facilities on the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge
because it's an isolated island," said Mendel Stewart, manager of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Created in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt, the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect seabirds and marine mammals. Researchers from a private organization who work in conjunction with the FWS collect bird and marine mammal data that are part of a 40-year data set.
"This research is important for monitoring climate change as well," Mr. Stewart said. "There are resident researchers on the island collecting data on the island around the clock."
In the past, island residents received power from diesel generators. The FWS realized that this power source wasn't practical or environmentally sound, so in the mid-1990s photovoltaic batteries and solar panels were installed as the primary power source. The original batteries had a shelf life of 10 years and were about to expire.
Securing a private contractor helicopter to swap out the batteries wasn't feasible due to the cost of airlifting such a heavy load, Mr. Stewart said. The island also isn't accessible by boat.
When Maj. Rhys Hunt, 129th Rescue Squadron operations officer, heard about the service's need for transportation, he was immediately interested and up for the challenge. 129th RQW Airmen are accustomed to complex missions such as water bucket drops over wildland fires and combat search and rescue operations in the mountains of Afghanistan.
"The 129th excels when performing operations like this one...a mission that required some out-of-the-box thinking, and took us out of our normal training mode," Major Hunt said.
The operations and logistics personnel got together and came up with a plan to transport the new batteries to the Farallon Islands. The 129th coordinated with the agency and fit the missions into the flight schedule.
New batteries were delivered here and to Treasure Island near San Francisco - a triangle delivery and exchange route was planned. The batteries were loaded on to the Pave Hawk helicopters and then crews transported the new batteries to the Farallons.
After dropping off the new batteries, the old batteries were sling-loaded to Treasure Island where 129th Logistics Readiness Squadron personnel were standing to assist with the swap. A sling-load is a cargo net containing equipment delivered by longline below a helicopter.
The aircrews made their way back with the new batteries to the Farallons and repeated the transport pattern the next day.
"We are very happy to have the new system in place," Mr. Stewart said. "I thank the 129th team for their professionalism and flexibility. I was very impressed!"
All told, the helicopters transported more than 14,000 pounds of batteries to power the lighthouse and Fish and Wildlife Service research facility workshop.
"It's great to be able to support a righteous mission like this one," Major Hunt said. "I think without a lot of effort, we made a big difference for them just by saying, 'We'll see if we can do this.'"