3d AS gets down and dirty

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class William Johnson
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The pilots are running through their final procedures and double checking that all information inputted into the aircraft's computer is precise and accurate. They prepare to land on a dirt airstrip that is only 3,563 feet long and 90 feet wide. There is no margin for error as lives could depend on the supplies that are carried on board of the aircraft.

This time around was training for the 3d Airlift Squadron, but at any moment they can be called upon to respond to anywhere around the world to deliver cargo and humanitarian relief.

By partnering with the 621st Contingency Response Wing from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, a C-17 Globemaster III crew consisting of three pilots and two loadmasters were able to conduct multiple touch and goes and short landing operations on an assault air strip Sept. 24, 2014 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.

Members of the 3d Airlift Squadron are constantly testing the limitations of the C-17 through vigorous training exercises such as semi-prepared runway operations, or SPRO training. The training prepares aircrews to operate on rugged runway conditions when deployed and paved runways are not an option.

"We are the largest aircraft in the world that can land in the dirt," said Maj. Aaron Oelrich, 3d AS director of operations. "The fact that we are able to go and land operationally in the dirt is a unique and strategic capability the C-17 brings to bear unlike any airframe in the world."

Not only does the assault strip serve as a training tool for Dover Air Force Base, but it also functions as a joint training tool between all four service branches and members of the 621st Contingency Operations Support Group.

Maj. Ryan Schenk, 621st COSG air mobility liaison officer, keeps the runway in operating condition and provides the pilots with advisories from the ground so the aircraft can land safely during training exercises.

"The training is mutual beneficial for all and we never know when we're going to get the call to do this very thing downrange," said Schenk. "With the constant threats from around the world and austere runways, especially in Afghanistan, we can provide the pilots with the tools they need so they can see what it's like to land on a strip that is shorter and narrower than what they are used to seeing at a normal airfield."

While the assault strip is everyday business for the 621st, it provides critical training for pilots of the 3d AS.

Capt. Ellen Canup, 3d AS deputy chief of wing plans, said the true value of training is validating and gaining more confidence in the capability of the aircraft.

"The training gives us that background and experience in how to run the procedures and systems and catch some of the 'gotchas' and make sure we are doing everything safely," said Canup. "We rely heavily on this type of training because we are not given a lot notice when called upon to execute these types of missions."

Often, members of the 3d AS finds themselves engaged in friendly competition with the 9th Airlift Squadron who operates the Air Force's largest aircraft, the C-5M Super Galaxy, about which aircraft is better. However, Oelrich said that both aircraft have their own set of unique capabilities.

"The reality is that these are two different aircrafts with two different capabilities," said Olerich. "Even five years later we are still showing and exercising the difference in what C-17s and C-5s bring to the table. Neither one is better, but they each own a unique set of capabilities to get the Air Force mission done."