JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- Members of the New York and Hawaii Air National Guard pushed their search and rescue capabilities to new heights off the coast of Oahu March 4, during a simulated mission to recover adrift astronauts.
The training scenario was held to ensure rescuers are ready to support NASA operations.
In the event of a major space-system malfunction, astronauts have the option to prematurely return to earth via ballistic reentry, a procedure in which a small capsule detaches from the spacecraft and descends with the aid of parachutes. Should this happen, the ANG is called in to aid the fallen astronauts.
The outbound-response team is comprised of pararescue Airmen from New York Air National Guard’s 103rd Rescue Squadron and an aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron here. For training purposes, the responders were alerted about a simulated inflight emergency for a spacecraft entering earth’s atmosphere. Upon notification, the rescue Airmen geared-up and assembled for their pre-flight briefing.
Both teams were pushed to react at an accelerated pace to replicate the urgency of an actual downed aircraft.
“We specifically wanted to induce high levels of stress into this training,” said Maj. Britton Komine, 204th Airlift Squadron pilot and mission planner. “When we are actually called out for a rescue scenario, contingency mission or even to fight a war, we are absolutely ready to operate under adverse circumstances and we're still going to be combat effective.”
Unlike during normal flight operations, the response team has very little time to spare, as the fallen astronauts can land virtually anywhere in the Pacific Ocean.
Aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron had a C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft prepped for flight the day prior. This made it possible for the Airmen to take off relatively quickly upon receiving emergency notification.
The pararescue Airmen onboard, also known as PJs, specialize in recovering downed aircrews from otherwise unreachable areas. Each member is also a trained paramedic and able to treat a wide range of injuries before taking the victim to more advanced medical care.
While the main objective of the training was to recover astronauts, the participants also completed several other readiness objectives. Each loadmaster, PJ and pilot involved has an important series of tasks which must be completed for them to stay qualified in their field of work.
During the flight, 204th AS loadmasters practiced dropping resupply bundles for the first time in Hawaii. This method is used to rapidly deliver medical supplies, food or equipment to those in need.
The Hawaii Air National Guard’s Globemasters were built to take on multi-faceted missions such as this. With its wide array of capabilities, members of the 204th can deliver troops and cargo around the world at a moment’s notice, including the transport of ambulatory patients for aeromedical evacuations and large amounts of disaster relief supplies for humanitarian aid missions.
This is the second year in a row the two squadrons collaborated for a simulated rescue mission. In addition to the recovery training, the two squadrons spent March 4th and 5th practicing high-altitude low-opening jumps above Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
"I believe the 103rd RQS and 204th AS are at the tip of the spear for readiness of this potential real-world mission," said Maj. Edward Boughal, 103rd RQS combat rescue officer. “This exercise specifically identifies the strategic value of employing Guardian Angel [combat rescue officers and PJs] Airmen from C-17 aircraft, providing a global reach capability to Air Force Rescue."