EAST GRANBY, Conn. – The 103rd Airlift Wing launched a five-ship C-130H1 formation from Bradley Air National Guard Base Oct. 4, displaying the unit's readiness and tactical airlift capabilities.
The mission, known as a "Max Fly," challenges the unit to fly the maximum amount of aircraft in its fleet in a single mission.
"To be able to fly five organically generated C-130H1s from a single Air National Guard unit at once is a big deal in the tactical airlift enterprise – especially when the unit currently has seven tails on the ramp," said Lt. Col. Neal Byrne, who assumed command of the 103rd Operations Group Oct. 3. "A lot of credit goes to the aircraft maintainers for all the work, inspections, and fixes it took to get those airplanes ready to fly all at the same time."
The 103rd typically flies two-ship formation training flights, so adding more aircraft to a single mission greatly increased the scale of the operation.
"The airframes themselves have regularly scheduled airworthiness inspections, as well as routine maintenance on the engines, fuel systems, electrical systems, environmental systems, and everything in between," said Byrne. "I think when you achieve something that's remarkably more difficult than the status quo and accomplish it safely and effectively, everyone has a lot to be proud of."
Aircrew preparation is vital to mission success and requires years of expertise.
"They have thousands of hours of experience and, generally speaking, multiple combat deployments," said Maj. Doug Ferro, 118th Airlift Squadron director of operations, pilot and Max Fly mission commander. "Once complete with their training and certified as a lead pilot or navigator, these individuals are expected to be able to lead a formation into and out of combat environments and successfully complete any airlift mission they may be assigned. These missions run the gamut from airdropping troops and equipment into hostile drop zones to delivering people, vehicles, and supplies to dirt strips or unimproved landing zones anywhere in the world."
The mission required collaboration among all base agencies, including the 103rd Operations Group, 103rd Maintenance Group, 103rd Mission Support Group, and the 103rd Medical Group.
"We work with all the shops involved ahead of time, figuring out what each plane's payload is going to be, and how much fuel is going to be on each plane so that when we get to the day of the mission we're ready to go," said Lt. Col. Joshua Linden, 118th Airlift Squadron navigator and Max Fly deputy mission commander. "It's basically a massive machine and everyone is doing their job within that machine to make it work. For as many people that were involved, it was very smooth."
Each aircraft carried heavy cargo pallets for the mission's airdrop on Bean Bag Drop Zone at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Air transportation specialists from the 103rd Logistics Readiness Squadron prepared each pallet and worked with 118th Airlift Squadron loadmasters to ensure proper loading and rigging in the aircraft. Air transportation personnel then recovered the cargo after it was airdropped and returned it to Bradley Air National Guard Base.
Pallet inspections from both air transportation specialists and loadmasters were critical to ensuring a successful mission. The pallets serve as training payloads, which the aircrews use to sharpen their skills in airdropping equipment and supplies to troops on the ground – a key tactical airlift capability.
"To conduct operations in the back of an aircraft flying at low altitude often in wake turbulence from preceding aircraft and still manage to effectively ensure first-pass success on a regular basis is outstanding," said Ferro.
"This mission is something this entire wing should be very proud of," said Ferro. "You could see the excitement on the maintainers' and operators' faces on the flight line – the pride Airmen directly involved in this mission exuded was palpable. It was a Herculean effort for sure, and I think everyone enjoyed and took great pride in the outcome. Without a doubt, the training we were able to accomplish as a result of the success of this mission increased the combat capability of the entire Flying Yankee team."