Friday, June 25, 2010

TOP STORY>>War game links Air Force and Army

Leader staff writer

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, N.C.—Four crews from the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base were among 10 C-130s and eight C-17s participating in this week’s historic joint forcible-entry exercise with the Army.

The role of the military transport planes during the simulated hostile situation was to provide troops and equipment rapidly to the troubled area. All 18 planes taxied together in a long train and flew in formation Tuesday under the cover of darkness. The exercise was performed again on Wednesday night.

According to Capt. Chris Stephen, deputy lead planner for the joint exercise, this was largest number of planes ever flying in formation for an exercise.

More than 1,000 Army paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division from neighboring Fort Bragg bailed out of the aircrafts in 13 minutes over the designated drop zone. C-130s not loaded with paratroopers were carrying armor re-enforced Humvees dropped from the air to help support the troops on the ground.

LRAFB had two C-130 J-models and two older E-models performing in the scenario. This Leader reporter rode along with LRAFB’s 53rd Airlift Squadron during the exercise. Making up the seven-member crew were Maj. Lars Johnsen, aircraft commander; Capt. Jason Robinson, co-pilot; Capt. Brian Shea, instructor navigator; 1st Lt. Stefan Idso, navigator; Staff Sgt. Thomas Brown, flight engineer, and Staff Sgt. Grant Lane and Airman 1st Class Gregory Izzi, both loadmasters.


On Tuesday night, the 53rd Squadron was assigned to carry paratroopers over the drop zone. The plane made a second pass over the area to let soldiers who did not jump the first time to bail out.

Before the flight, crew members inspected the plane. They prepared the cargo area by installing seats for the soldiers. Army personnel came out and examined the seating arrangement and the cargo area before the paratroopers went on board.

Soon after, 60 paratroops carrying heavy bags of gear and parachutes waddled like ducks in a row to the plane’s loading ramp.

During the hour-and-a-half exercise, the C-130 flight crew worked on keeping the correct timing, elevation and speeds for the exercise. The loadmasters were busy keeping the Army jumpmaster informed on the progress of the flight. The loadmasters were also relaying information back to the flight crew on the condition of the paratroopers.

Even though it was dark, the C-130 gets hot. Sweat does not bead up but pours out. Having plenty of drinking water becomes a concern. The loadmasters had to contend with soldiers battling dehydration.

Temperatures in North Carolina were in the upper 90s. An Army nurse was on board. Several soldiers became air sick. A couple of paratroopers were unable to make the jump because of heat exhaustion.

Just as the C-130 reached the drop zone, the plane slowed from 230 mph to around 150 mph.

Then when the red light on the cargo area turned green, it was time to jump. Two paratroopers on different sides of the plane jumped out at the same time. It took them 30 seconds to get out.

Loadmaster Izzi explained his role when the C-130 is carrying paratroopers.

“We’ve got to communicate with the jumpmaster to let them know where they should be at in their checklist and giving them time and wind references necessary for a successful jump,” he said.

Afterward, Maj. Johnsen, the aircraft commander, said this was his first joint forcible-entry exercise.

“It was critically important understanding the limitation of the other airplanes. The C-17 takes a long time to slow down,” Johnsen said.

Regarding communications, Johnsen said the big problem was with the radios. The C-17s have five radios and the C-130s have three. There was confusion on the channels during Tuesday’s exercise.

Johnsen said he prefers to carry personnel rather than heavy equipment.

“If the heavy equipment jams up in the plane, it’s a little scarier and you’re assuming more risk,” Johnsen explained.

“The heavy equipment as it extracts out (causes) the balance of the aircraft to shift back. Pilots need to counter the weight movement. But as the load clears the airplane, I immediately need to take out the control input,” the commander said.

“I’m holding the nose down because the weight shifting backwards wants to make the nose come up.”


On the second day of the exercise, the 53rd Squadron was assigned to transport and shuttle heavy equipment for the Army. It began around 7 p.m. with the crew scheduled to deliver two Humvees weighing 19,700 pounds out of the C-130 to the drop zone.

The vehicles were packed with protective cardboard on pallets. Using parachutes, the Humvees would be jerked out of the plane in three seconds by the airstream and descending to the ground.

Sgt. Lane, one of the loadmasters, talked about the difference between unloading heavy equipment compared to soldiers in the air.

“It is not live bodies. It is simpler. The only people you are going to hurt is the crew,” Lane said.

He said with the paratroopers, there is more coordination with people, safety and the jumpmasters.

The Humvee drops did not go as planned. When the C-130’s cargo door opened, the steps to the plane’s portable toilet were not secured tightly enough and fell. Double checking the cargo area before the drop, a loadmaster discovered what had happened.

Concerned about safety, the loadmaster did not want to risk damaging the C-130 and told the crew to cancel the drop. The plane flew back to Pope, where the Humvees were unloaded on to a K-loader, a flatbed cargo transport vehicle.

Nearly two hours later, close to midnight, the C-130 crew flew to Mackall Army Airfield, N.C. There, an Army one-ton truck with two soldiers was driven onto the C-130 cargo ramps, loaded and secured. For an hour, the C-130 was forced to wait with its engines running.

The crew could not turn off the engines because a compressor had broken, and the crew did not think it could restart the plane.

While waiting, flight engineer Brown and aircraft commander Johnsen had growing concerns over the amount of fuel remaining in the plane.

Finally, word came to fly to a landing zone at the exercise drop zone. Fifteen minutes later, the plane made a dirt landing on the Carolina red clay in the pitch black.

With the C-130s engines running, loadmasters Lane and Izzi unchained the one-ton truck and Army personnel drove the vehicle right down the cargo ramp. From there, it was back to Pope to end the night at 3 a.m.

(Next: More hard work ahead.)