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Airmen from the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing Air Terminal Operations Center shove a pallet loaded with cargo to the front of a C-17 Globemaster III, so it can be secured for flight. Master Sgt. Bill Lambert (left) walks towards the flight deck April 17. Both Sergeant Lambert, a loadmaster, and the C-17 are from the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. (Photo by Maj Ann Peru Knabe)
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High ops tempo, 24/7 flying schedule typical for deployed C-17 aircrews

Posted 5/2/2006   Updated 5/2/2006 Email story   Print story


by Major Ann Peru Knabe
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

5/2/2006 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AMCNS) -- It sounds counter-intuitive. A series of short C-17 flights demand intense aircrew energy and stamina, while the longer sorties remain more physically manageable.

“Either way you look at it, our C-17 crews put in long hours that place physical and mental demands on the human body,” said Lt. Col. Chris Carlsen, 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron Detachment 2 Commander “And a lot of times they’re hitting the 26-hour mark.”

The 26-hour mark refers to a waiver that allows aircrew to fly two additional hours beyond the 24-hour flying duty day.

“Typically, the max is 24 hours of flying and 45 minutes of work allowed after shutdown,” said Capt. Daryl Myers, 817th EAS aircraft commander, who added that he measures his flying days in hours as opposed to miles flown. “But we can get a waiver to go up to 26 hours, which has happened a couple of times over here.”

According to 1st Lt. Greg Brock, an “easy” day is 15 to 16 hours of flying. The C-17 pilot said longer legs on a multi-sortie mission are actually more manageable because the pilots take turns flying the C-17 Globemaster and get some sleep when they are not in the cockpit. Loadmasters have also been known to sleep on the floor when trips take longer than five hours.

“We sleep whenever we can,” said Lieutenant Brock, referring to the delicate balance between crew rest and flying. “We don’t have a set flying schedule, but we need a minimum of eight hours uninterrupted sleep on the ground in between missions. After a really long mission, I’ve slept up to 15 hours straight.”

The missions themselves are unpredictable. Recently, Captain Myers, Lieutenant Brock and another 817th EAS pilot, Capt. James Wright, prepared for an average night of flying with three stops. They reported for their intel and tactics briefings around 7 p.m. But when they got to the flight line to prepare for take-off, Master Sgt. Bill Lambert, 817th EAS loadmaster, informed the crew there were changes in cargo.

“A one-alpha requirement came through,” said Sergeant Lambert, referring to a last-minute, high-priority cargo request. “And we had no choice but to completely unload the plane and rearrange all the cargo.”

It took more than an hour for the aerial porters to palletize the new load. Because the replacement cargo weighed more than the pallets it was replacing, everything had to be taken off the plane and reconfigured.

Everyone, from the aircraft commander down to the loadmasters, worked together to quickly transport the cargo from the K-loaders onto the plane. The bidirectional rollers on the C-17 airframe helped the crew move the cargo across the floor. Working against the clock, Sergeant Lambert and Senior Airman Steve “Bird Dog” Baird, a loadmaster, effortlessly secured the new pallets down with the C-17’s automatic locking pins.

Already a couple of hours behind schedule, the aircrew flew to a nearby base, less than 300 miles away, where the cargo was off-loaded. It was well after midnight when they landed; and, the crew was greeted with another surprise. There was enough cargo waiting on the ground to fill the entire aircraft on the flight back.

Once the aircraft was completely reloaded, the crew flew back here where aerial porters unloaded the pallets and prepared the plane for yet another sortie to a different country.

By this time it was almost 5 a.m. Several crew members took advantage of the time on the ground and ran to the dining facility for a bite to eat. In less than an hour, they were ready to fly again, but this time there was a maintenance problem. A couple of hours later, the crew was tasked to fly to Germany to resolve the maintenance issue, which required support and parts from a C-17 maintenance hub at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. In all, the crew worked 23 hours before calling it quits.

“Flying C-17s in the AOR is a tough haul,” said Maj. Stephen Polomsky, 817th EAS Det. 2 operations officer. “We try to manage how we set up the crew schedules, making sure there aren’t too many long days in a row. It’s critical we manage their rest cycle to ensure (Operational Risk Management) precautions are heeded.”

Major Polomsky said the deployed environment is quite a bit different than routine C-17 missions in the United States.

“We’re looking at a very high ops tempo in the desert,” he said. “Crews come out here for a couple of weeks at a time, they work really hard and then rotate back home. But within a matter of weeks, maybe days, they’re often tasked to come back out.”

Despite the demanding flying hours, Airman Baird said he loves the C-17 mission. “Time flies when you’re busy,” said the 23-year-old loadmaster who spent more than 200 days TDY in the last year. “With such a busy schedule, we rely on the pilots to help get the job done, and they, in turn, rely on us to help them.”

Captain Myers also finds his deployed duty in Southwest Asia satisfying.

“There’s nothing like the feeling of pulling soldiers out of Baghdad who have been on the ground serving a year,” said the pilot, who spent eight years enlisted before earning his commission and wings. “The troops always give a big cheer as we fly out of Iraq, and you can’t beat that feeling of satisfaction knowing you’re taking these Soldiers and Marines back to the states.”

The 817th Det. 2 is located here, with its higher headquarters based at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Major Polomsky said the unit traces its roots back to the World War II “Over the Hump” campaign.

More recently, the 817th EAS was the first forward deployed C-17 staging operations set up in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Their unit’s mission includes transportation of deployed troops, cargo, supplies and medical patients throughout the AOR.

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