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Flying Yankees get down and dirty in Georgia

A C-130H Hercules aircraft assigned to the 103rd Airlift Wing prepares to take off from Ramagen dirt strip, Bryon County, Ga., Jan. 7, 2015. The aircraft was piloted by Lt. Col. Steve Gwinn and Maj. Josh Panis; both were qualifying for a special certification that permits them to land on short, unimproved runways. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Air-man Emmanuel Santiago)

A C-130H Hercules aircraft assigned to the 103rd Airlift Wing prepares to take off from Ramagen dirt strip, Bryon County, Ga., Jan. 7, 2015. The aircraft was piloted by Lt. Col. Steve Gwinn and Maj. Josh Panis; both were qualifying for a special certification that permits them to land on short, unimproved runways. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Air-man Emmanuel Santiago)

SAVANNAH COMBAT READINESS TRAINING CENTER - Garden City, Ga. -- Blue skies and beautiful weather set the stage for two pilots assigned to the 118th Airlift Squadron to receive their unimproved airfields certification, or dirt cert, on Ramagen landing strip in Bryon County, Georgia, while deployed to the Combat Readiness Training Center, Savannah, Georgia. More than 100 Airmen from the 103rd Airlift Wing deployed to the CRTC for op-eration Snow Bird; this certification was just one of the many training goals accomplished.

To attain the dirt cert, the pilot must complete maximum effort landings on a dirt landing strip. The Ramagen landing strip is significantly smaller than a normal runway. During this session, the pilots also completed a series of "touch and go" landings, a process in which the aircraft lands and takes off without coming to a complete stop. The purpose of the touch and go is to maintain the pilots' takeoff and landing skills.

For a pilot who has extensive hours of flight time, taking off and landing is nothing new. Now factor in the very small space on which these pilots have to land the massive aircraft and it becomes easy to appreciate the challenging task this certification validates. If the aircraft approaches short of this window, it may be damaged. If the plane lands past the allotted space, there may not be enough runway for the aircraft to come to a complete stop.

The training was a team effort. The 165th Civil Engineer Squadron and CRTC personnel prepared the dirt runway and Airmen from Portland, Oregon, where in charge of air traffic control. Together they facilitated this training which has not been seen here in two years.
    
According to Lt. Col. Steve Gwinn, one of the pilots flying the mission, achieving the unimproved landing certification was the next step in the 103rd Airlift Wing's progress towards full mission-ready status.

"The dirt cert is not to be overlooked just because we complete it after training at Little Rock. It's the third main mission set of the C-130 to land anywhere, anytime, to resupply our troops," said Gwinn. "Plus, what pilot wouldn't want to land a big airplane on a piece of dirt? It's just fun."