As a King Stallion helicopter pilot for the Marine Corps based in New River on the coast of North Carolina, she’s headed up–straight up. But the first time she got into a helicopter she felt like she was trying to balance on a beach ball while juggling about 12 plates, all separate sizes, and not letting any of them drop. This is the main reason that the Marines have experienced instructors teaching you how to do it, she said. So it doesn’t go sideways.
“You’ve got a lot going on,” she said in an interview with the Sullenberger Aviation Museum Collections team. “You are very much off balance and trying to just keep everything in the air and going. Eventually, it feels natural, but the very first time—you are so task saturated and overwhelmed. There’s a lot going on.”
But when asked whether she’d rather fly rotary or fixed wing aircraft, she is quick to say, “I definitely prefer helicopters for the crew concept. I would say that flying in a fixed wing aircraft is maybe a little more fun—but the bond that you have with your crew chiefs and your co-pilots that you find in rotary is very unique.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam Henke)
And rotary flight is also more interesting for Harper. “I can land my helicopters just about anywhere. So, (rotary) does offer a lot of dynamic solutions and different ways to employ it that’s not as restrictive as a fixed wing aircraft,” said Harper.
Harper loves the creative problem solving that she sees every day in her job. Almost as much as she loves the camaraderie that she feels working with her fellow Marines and other piIots.
“We’re not at war—we’re training right now, but the importance of training is to make sure that you’re ready for whatever,” said Harper. “I like using my brain. I like researching and working together with other people to come up with the best solution that’s the most efficient way to solve a problem. It is really appealing.”
One of the most exciting missions she’s been on to date is the first CH-53-K integration with the Weapons Tactics Instructor (WTI) course.
“I think that was the first time that I’ve been in a division bigger than four aircraft. That was really cool,” said Harper. “It was mixed with Echoes (CH-53Es), Kings (CH-53Ks), and also a (CH-)47, but it was an eight aircraft division. We all took off at the same time, and just seeing the beautiful chaos that is eight rotary wing aircraft all flying in the same piece of sky. It was a very interesting ballet.”
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kricket Harper, CH-53K King Stallion pilot, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 461, Marine Aircraft Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, operates a CH-53K King Stallion over the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, California, during a training exercise, April 13, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gideon M. Schippers)