103rd Flies Five-ship C-130 Formation

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

In a comprehensive display of the unit’s readiness and tactical airlift capabilities, the 103rd Airlift Wing launched a five-ship C-130H1 formation from Bradley Air National Guard Base on October 4, 2020.

The mission, known as a “Max Fly,” challenges the unit to fly the maximum amount of aircraft in its fleet in a single mission, which requires extensive preparation.

“To be able to fly five organically generated C-130H1s from a single Air National Guard unit at once is a big deal in the tactical airlift enterprise – especially when the unit currently has seven tails on the ramp. A lot of credit goes to the aircraft maintainers for all the work, inspections, and fixes it took to get those airplanes ready to fly all at the same time,” said Lt. Col. Neal Byrne, who assumed command of the 103rd Operations Group on Oct. 3 and previously served as 103rd Maintenance Squadron Commander in the weeks leading up to the mission.

The 103rd typically flies two-ship formation training flights, so adding more aircraft to a single mission greatly increased the scale of the operation and all that typically goes into mission planning and aircraft generation.

“The airframes themselves have regularly scheduled airworthiness inspections, as well as routine maintenance on the engines, fuel systems, electrical systems, environmental systems, and everything in between,” said Byrne. “I think when you achieve something that’s remarkably more difficult than the status quo and accomplish it safely and effectively, everyone has a lot to be proud of. Maintenance should be proud of the aircraft they generated and how they performed in the air and the Operations team should be proud of all the training and coordination they accomplished in the weeks and months preceding, which facilitated the mission being executed with such precision, safety and effectiveness.”

Aircrew preparation is vital to mission success, and requires years of expertise.

“To be a lead-qualified pilot or navigator, which is required for the crews in the number one, three, or five positions, an individual needs extensive experience and to have gone through a rigorous lead-upgrade training program at home station,” said Maj. Doug Ferro, 118th Airlift Squadron Director of Operations, pilot and Max Fly mission commander. “They have thousands of hours of experience and, generally speaking, multiple combat deployments. Once complete with their training and certified as a lead pilot or navigator, these individuals are expected to be able to lead a formation into and out of combat environments and successfully complete any airlift mission they may be assigned. These missions run the gamut from airdropping troops and equipment into hostile drop zones to delivering people, vehicles, and supplies to dirt strips or unimproved landing zones anywhere in the world.”

The success of this mission required collaboration amongst all base agencies, including the 103rd Operations Group, 103rd Maintenance Group, 103rd Mission Support Group, and the 103rd Medical Group.

“We work with all the shops involved ahead of time, figuring out what each plane’s payload is going to be, and how much fuel is going to be on each plane so that when we get to the day of the mission we’re ready to go,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Linden, 118th Airlift Squadron navigator and Max Fly deputy mission commander. “It’s basically a massive machine and everyone is doing their job within that machine to make it work. For as many people that were involved, it was very smooth.”

Each aircraft carried heavy cargo pallets for the mission’s airdrop on Bean Bag Drop Zone at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Mass. Air transportation specialists from the 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron prepared each pallet and worked with 118th Airlift Squadron loadmasters to ensure proper loading and rigging in the aircraft. Air transportation personnel then recovered the cargo after it was airdropped and returned it to Bradley Air National Guard Base.

“We started planning for this about two or three weeks in advance,” said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Leist, 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron Air Transportation Craftsman. “We reached out to Vehicle Operations and they provided us with two tractor trailers and a box truck to help bring back the training payload, which also allowed their drivers to get essential readiness training.”

Pallet inspections from both air transportation specialists and loadmasters were critical to ensuring a safe, successful mission for the aircrews. The pallets serve as training payloads, which the aircrews use to sharpen their skills in airdropping equipment and supplies to troops on the ground—a key tactical airlift capability.

“To conduct operations in the back of an aircraft flying at low altitude often in wake turbulence from preceding aircraft and still manage to effectively ensure first pass success on a regular basis is outstanding,” said Ferro. “The loadmasters must ensure the safety of the airdrop, which in turn ensures the safety of the entire crew and aircraft. Our flight engineers also ensure safety in flight by monitoring all engine systems and advising the crew on any potential aircraft system issues.”

“We must remember that every organization in this wing plays an active role, whether they know it or not, in our team’s ability to be able to do something this challenging,” Byrne said.

Byrne highlighted the synergistic effects of support agencies including the Medical Group, Civil Engineer Squadron, and Force Support Squadron, who help make the mission possible.

The preparation and execution of the mission led to a successful, historic day at Bradley Air National Guard Base.

“This mission is something this entire wing should be very proud of,” said Ferro. “You could see the excitement on the maintainers’ and operators’ faces on the flight line—the pride Airmen directly involved in this mission exuded was palpable. It was a herculean effort for sure and I think everyone enjoyed and took great pride in the outcome. Without a doubt, the training we were able to accomplish as a result of the success of this mission increased the combat capability of the entire Flying Yankee team.”