JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Three C-17 Globemaster III aircraft flew to North Auxiliary Airfield in North, South Carolina, March 15 to execute in-flight training with aircrew eye and respiratory protection system equipment, the first exercise of its kind in more than a decade for 437th Airlift Wing aircrew members.
The training also marked the completion of the second phase of Exercise Bonny Jack 2017, a three-part exercise to test the 437th AW's world-wide readiness capabilities and joint interoperability.
"We haven't done an exercise like this in quite some time," said Capt. Keely Yankie, 16th Airlift Squadron chief of tactics. "In the early 2000s, aircrews were practicing this stuff all the time. This was a challenge because most of us haven't done this to know what we are weak at yet or what areas are lacking."
The training was used to identify areas that need to be improved in the future. One pilot and one loadmaster in each aircraft wore the gear. Another pilot and loadmaster were on standby to relieve them as a safety precaution.
"This is a great way to test our capabilities," said Yankie. "After the exercise we will be able to say we can safely execute these [real world] missions."
Although chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear training occurs annually, the pilots and loadmasters train with mission oriented protective posture gear, which is less equipment than AERPS gear, in a flight simulator. The AERPS equipment consists of a rubber mask, multiple layers of boots and gloves, fan filter system and an audio and speaker system.
"When you have to wear a piece of equipment limiting your basic human ability to breathe, move, and communicate, it really dials your situational awareness back," said Capt. Jason Carroll, 15th AS airdrop instructor pilot. "If you can't communicate effectively in the loop of pilots and loadmasters or something disrupts it, you either need to find another way to communicate or fix the problem. We ran into a lot of problems with that, some of it was human error, but some was also struggling to hear with the system on."
Communication is the key for a successful mission. Pilots and loadmasters heavily rely on verbal communication. Despite not being able to verbally communicate or hear very well, the aircrews were able to use hand gestures and motions to convey their message.
"You have to do these exercises as a crawl, walk and run kind of thing," said Carroll. "This was definitely the crawl phase, but there are higher levels this could go to for aircrew. We got what we wanted to out of the first level of this, which was to get familiar with the equipment. I would call it mission success."
The last leg of Bonny Jack 2017 will be a large formation exercise in May. Pilots, loadmasters, paratroopers and others will be training on C-17s and other aircraft in support of All American Week at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.