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Hawaii Air Guard conducts flare deployment exercise, prepares for low-light astronaut rescue ops

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Makaio Roberts, a loadmaster assigned to the 204th Airlift Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard, arms a flare as Master Sgt. Randy Yamada monitors for proper technique during a flare deployment training operation held Aug. 27, 2020, in Hawaii. The addition of area illuminating  flares will enhance the HIANG's continued support of astronaut rescue operations for NASA's SpaceX Human Space Flight program. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz)

U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Makaio Roberts, a loadmaster assigned to the 204th Airlift Squadron, Hawaii Air National Guard, arms a flare as Master Sgt. Randy Yamada monitors for proper technique during a flare deployment training operation held Aug. 27, 2020, in Hawaii. The addition of area illuminating flares will enhance the HIANG's continued support of astronaut rescue operations for NASA's SpaceX Human Space Flight program. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- The Hawaii Air National Guard [HIANG] 204th Airlift Squadron added area illuminating flares to its rescue repertoire during a flare training operation conducted Aug. 27 just off the coast of Oahu.

The addition of area illuminating flares comes from the HIANG's continued support of NASA's SpaceX Human Space Flight program. It enhances the airlift squadron's ability to conduct contingency astronaut rescue operations in any lighting conditions.

"We need to be able to locate the capsule at night, low-light, or in adverse weather conditions," said Tech. Sgt. Makaio Roberts 204th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "We have to drop these flares or smoke markers so we can mark and keep the capsule in-sight and not lose it in these conditions."

In the event astronaut rescue were to be needed, a pre-staged C-17 would launch with a pararescuemen team, more commonly known as PJs, and head for the rescue site. Upon location of the astronaut capsule, the PJs and their equipment would parachute from the back of the C-17 to execute rescue operations.

Should the rescue happen in low or no-light conditions, PJs can request the illumination flares' deployment. The flares are armed by loadmasters, who then position on the edge of the C-17 ramp. In close coordination with the flight-deck, loadmasters cast out the flares which have parachutes that allow them to float down while illuminating the surface.

According to the manufacturer, the flare produces 1.8 million candlepower of visual illumination for four to five minutes. And depending on the altitude can illuminate an area of up to 1000 feet in diameter.

"Astronaut rescue can happen at any time whether it be daytime or night," Roberts said. "So to be able to light up the night sky is a huge capability for rescue operations."

While the 204th always had a contingent of flare experienced loadmasters, the training allowed additional crew to be certified in its use and deployment.

The 204th is one of only two squadrons in the nation able to conduct C-17 born rescue operations for NASA's Human Space Flight program and is the primary squadron tasked with execution.

"We stood on alert when the astronauts first went up and again when they came back home just recently," said Roberts. "When they do it again, we'll be ready...day or night."

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