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Austere runway ops validate C-17 combat capability

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rachel Martinez
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
In 2009, the Air Force conducted semi-prepared runway operations testing at numerous airfields around the world where they found that the C-17 Globemaster III is capable of taking off and landing on 65 percent of the world's soil.

The capability to operate on semi-prepared airfields increases the C-17's ability to deliver much-needed cargo to forward deployed troops in Afghanistan, as was recently demonstrated by members of the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

On March 26, 2013, the 817 EAS was tasked to deliver critical communications equipment to Forward Operating Base Farah in Afghanistan where the airfield is little more than dirt. While the aircrews deliver cargo to bases in Afghanistan on a daily basis, this was only the second time in the last year that the 817 EAS had been tasked with a SPRO mission.

"We train for it, and have procedures in our manuals on how to conduct SPRO, we just don't get to do it very often," said Capt. Cliff Caldwell, 817 EAS aircraft commander for the mission. "These missions are cool because they really validate the capabilities of the C-17."

There is extra preparation and precaution when it comes to conducting SPRO missions. Aircrews conduct careful pre-flight plan study and maintenance airmen prepare the jet for operating in dusty and austere environments. Waivers need to be coordinated through Air Mobility Command and, in this case, the cargo needed to be certified for airlift. Additionally, the austere location required security support from Phoenix Ravens, specially trained security forces personnel dedicated to providing support for AMC aircraft transiting airfields where security is unknown or additional security is needed to counter local threats.

Caldwell, who had conducted SPRO training at an airfield in the U.S., was the only aircrew member who had actually conducted such a mission. Despite the uniqueness of the mission, the other aircrew members said they were prepared for successful operations.

"We keep documents on these types of missions and that was a huge part of our mission review," said Capt. Chris Gilbert, 817 EAS pilot. "We were well prepared. Other than landing the aircraft on dirt, it was just another mission for us; and the jet performed really well that day."

With such proven combat capabilities, the 817 EAS continues to provide airlift as needed to meet warfighter needs.