This is an article and associated discussion of what C-17 life is like and what to expect when arriving from Altus. This information was compiled from posts on the Baseops.net Discussion Forums. Discussion are led by current C-17 pilots.
“Here is an article on how we are deploying now from AF.mil. This is the new thing. Example: In May 2006, my squadron had 10-13 crews on the road for 3 week trips. In mid-June we were down to 2. That’s a big change. Guys are home a lot more (a nice break from the 250+ days TDY a year like I had the last two). We are getting proficient instead of just ‘current’ as far as training goes. It’s a good thing and its good to see AMC on-board with this. I know there are a few Colonels (and maybe a general or two) at HQ AMC that are eating their words right about now…”
C-17 deployment length, efficiency increase
7/10/2006 – SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) — In a break from the past, C-17 Globemaster IIIs and Airmen supporting the aircraft are deploying to the theaters and operating from one location for an entire air and space expeditionary force rotation.
Previously a squadron traveled to an area, flew 14-15 days, then returned home. About one-third of its deployment was traveling to and from the operating location.
Prior to June, C-17 deployments varied according to combat demand, subjecting crews to an unrelenting operations tempo. In an effort to slow that tempo, ongoing since 9/11, and increase aircrew efficiency and aircraft utilization rates, Air Mobility Command leaders implemented a two-expeditionary-airlift-squadron initiative for C-17 squadrons. One squadron, the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, is operating from a forward deployed location in Southwest Asia, and the other, the 817th EAS, is based at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
“This way of operating gives both the combatant commander as well as the aircrews the continuity needed to improve reliability and efficiency. Aircrews get accustomed to the combat environment and users get accustomed to the crew and squadron leadership. It’s a win for everyone,” said Lt. Col. Lenny Richoux, 816 EAS commander.
“Air Mobility Command leadership decided to take the two squadrons, the 17th Airlift Squadron from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and the 7th Airlift Squadron from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., and deploy them under the 385th Expeditionary Airlift Group,” said Colonel Richoux, the Charleston-based squadron commander. “So, now we have two full squadrons in theater operating at a more a stable, predictable, efficient and disciplined manner than in the past.”
The change has given the air mobility division tactics folks at the Combined Air Operations Center predictability.
“Having the 816 EAS on regular AEF rotations helps us,” said Maj. Brian Wald, an air mobility division tactics chief deployed from Scott AFB, Ill. “They have a full-time person who handles tactical-level plans, leaving us to focus on the operational-level plans. Previously we handled both. Also, in previous rotations, the C-17 squadron had only one qualified crew and if (it was) in crew rest, we had to take care of any changes that may have come up. This isn’t the case anymore.
“Ultimately,” said Major Wald, “if I find out I need an aircraft two days from now, I know they will be there.”
The new way of doing business also has allowed the squadron commander an opportunity to structure the deployed squadron more efficiently.
“When we stood up this operation, it allowed me to arrange it in a way where we could predictably fly about a dozen C-17s every day,” said Colonel Richoux. “We have to.
“I organized the fliers into hard crews (a set crew of two pilots and one loadmaster who always fly together), which is not the way airlift has been done in the past,” he said. “Airlift used to be done with ‘pools’ of pilots and loadmasters pulled together as a mission came up.
“I did not want to do that. I wanted my officers to lead their aircrew for the entire deployment. I also have augmented crews (three pilots and two loadmasters). We use augmented crews on long missions, allowing time for one of the pilots and loadmasters to get out of their seat, into a bunk and get a couple hours of sleep so they can safely operate the mission,” said the colonel.
According to Colonel Richoux, the change has worked. The 816 EAS has, in their first month in the theater, flown 854 sorties and moved roughly 23 million pounds of cargo and 23,530 passengers. The squadron also played a key part in the airdrop of nearly 813,000 pounds of troop re-supply and humanitarian civil assistance throughout the theater.
“While we mainly provide troop re-supply to coalition forces, we also deliver humanitarian aid for the local communities surrounding that combat zone,” said Colonel Richoux. “And it’s done with airlift, C-17s and C-130 (Hercules).”
Aircraft are loaded quickly and operators are flexible enough to adjust where a load is going even while in flight.
“We can also get in there under (the) cover of darkness so the bad guys can’t see us,” said the colonel. “We can get in there low; we can get in and out of there fast, and we can deliver the load with precision, within 25 yards of where it is supposed to go.”
He attributed much of the success to 8th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainers, who retained a 95.2-percent aircraft reliability rate for June.
“We are literally coming together, saving lives and delivering hope to fledgling democracies,” said Colonel Richoux. “We are all proud to be a part of it.”
Not only is the mission rewarding to the deployed members, but it benefits those at home stations who, thanks to this new approach, now have more time to focus on issues the operations tempo normally puts on the back burner.
“Since the two EAS construct achieved initial operating capability June 1, current operations at Charleston Air Force Base has experienced a 50-percent reduction in required crews,” said Lt. Col. Keith Parnell, 816 EAS director of operations, in a study he conducted. “With a significantly lower aircrew and aircraft tasking system rate, squadrons at home station are offered the opportunity to maintain currency, improve proficiency, complete upgrades, work on professional military education and take leave.”
This evolution of C-17 deployments has transformed with the adaptation of the AEF cycle. According to Colonel Richoux, the stand-up of two rotational squadrons has and will continue to ensure the coalition ground forces are re-supplied when needed, and the people caught in the midst of the war on terrorism are provided with assistance and hope.
Excerpts from Baseops.Net Discussion Forums
As a C-17 crewmember, how often will I deploy to the desert for 4-months?
You leave for the desert every 16-20 months. Right now itll be closer to every 16 months. In the future, once more squadrons (Travis, Dover, etc.) come online – you will be closer to every 18 to 20 months.
More along the lines of what the RC-135 and Herk guys do.
What you WON’T have any longer (provided we don’t go to war with Iran or anyone ELSE in the mid-east) is getting home from a 3 week trip and turning in 24 hrs to go out on another 3 weeker… that sucked and we’ve all done it. With any luck those days are long gone.
How was the new deployment situation for summer 2006? How is the TDY rate change, quality of life changes?
It has helped a lot in the way that guys are home lots more. However, in some ways, it has now swung the other way. Don’t come to the C-17 community expecting to get 600 – 900 hours per year. It’s probably closer to 400 to 500. The upgrade pace has also dropped drastically (since guys aren’t getting the hours).
Overall, the deployment change of last summer has probably been a good thing for the community. Guys are home more often and the schedule is more predictable.
Has this change affected ops tempo and flight-hours per year for pilots?
This change has brought back a more sustainable ops tempo. But you know how it works…the word filters down to the UPT studs and they hear they are going to get to fly 1000 hours per year and not do office work. Then they show up and it’s not like that. They are flying maybe once every month and a half (operationally) and then they are being asked to do “volunteer” stuff around the squadron the rest of the time.
So on a given month, how many times do you fly/flight hours do you get?
In a given month, it depends (you should have expected that). If you fly an overseas mission, you might get between 40 to 60 hours. If you don’t get on an overseas mission, it all depends on where you are at in your qualification level. Most new guys don’t try to get on locals so they fly once every two weeks or so. If they really wanted too, they could probably fly once to twice per week depending on the number of training lines available, checkrides going on, upgrades taking place, etc.
As a new Copilot, do I have the opportunity to get on more flights if I’m proactive?
Yes, to a degree. There should be no reason that you could not have as many local sorties as you want, barring any other currency priority. Missions, on the other hand, will be harder to come by. Every Lt in the squadron will be harassing the scheduler to get on the road, you’ll just have to wait in line w/ everyone else. As far as being fast-tracked, that is much more likely to happen w/ your squadron job than flying. You will probably get a position appropriate to your rank and years of service.
One last thought: the trips are fewer and farther between, but if you are going to CHS/TCM it really picks up when it comes time for a squadron to deploy. One squadron will get time off and one will still be on the road. Now you have two squadrons doing the mission of four. Like anything else it ebbs and it flows. Overall, being a C-17 pilot (or load) is a great job!
Now that Travis and Hawaii are being stood up with Alaska coming online in the not too distant future, what roles (airdrop/airland/antarctic/nuke/spec-ops etc) are those respective bases going to play in the grand scheme of things?
Hawaii has an airdrop role. We are being told that Elmendorf will also. Travis does not participate in the airdrop arena. All bases play a role in the airland mission. Operation DEEP FREEZE (Antarctic Mission) is owned at McChord and will probably continue for the foreseeable future (due to crew and aircraft requirements). We won’t talk about the “nuke” mission as this is not the appropriate forum. Charleston is the only base with SOLL II.
Tell me about the Antarctic mission at McChord…who typically flies it (experience levels etc..), how often, are there any special quals needed etc…?
The DEEP FREEZE mission is normally reserved for experienced crew members (IP’s) with at least 2 or more years left on station. On a case by case basis, other’s do get to go. DEEP FREEZE does require a special qualification. The missions normally run from late October through the middle of March (summer time in the southern hemisphere).
I would not anticipate participating in a DEEP FREEZE mission in your first tour (at least not in the first 3 years), although it does happen on occasion.
For those who are airdrop qualified, what percentage would you say of your flying focuses around airdrop vs doing some of the other airland missions and trips?
It depends. I am AC Aidrop qualified and would say less than 50% of my time is spent with airdrop. However, as you increase your airdrop qualification, your locals will consist of mostly airdrop. (For example, very rarely do I fly an airland local training mission. There are so few AC airdrop qual’d pilots in my squadron that we are needed to fly the airdrop lines and JFEX lines). On the other hand, 95% or more of your overseas missions will be airland only. Very few guys (although the number increases weekly) have performed a combat airdrop in the C-17. The airdrop qual will keep you from flying as many overseas missions because we still have to meet any requests the army has at Pope (among other locations).
Overall, the Ops tempo in the C-17 has decreased drastically from a year or two years ago. The 2 EAS system has been great for that. Guys at Charleston and McChord can expect to “deploy” for 120 every other year. Most can expect to be TDY 150 to 180 every year with deployment years being a little higher (200 or so). We are being told that the smaller bases will start playing in the two EAS system (deploying), but I’ll believe it when I see it.
How many flight hours does a typical copilot get in C-17s?
I’ll speak to Charleston, but I bet McChord is very similar, and I’m an airland guy. You could, if you really wanted to, fly two locals a week. Locals are a rare commodity at CHS because we need airplanes to move stuff. The training fence can come down at any moment and TACC will take tails. Flying locals will not hurt your chances at trips, in fact, you could say just the opposite. Flying locals=current and qualified. Current bodies are needed to fill trips, especially short notice drop-down missions. As far as “$hit flight on the schedule” I’m sure the scheduler would love to fly you Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and not very many of your bros will fight you for it. I can’t speak for fighter guys, -130’s, or helos, but we work 7 days a week because a lot of training gets done on Saturday night, both in the jet and the sim.
Now, trips. In my squadron right now I would say that CP/FP-types average about one trip a month because of the 2 EAS system. Our IP/EP’s are flying their asses off because we have a lot of guys that need OCONUS rides and OME’s (checkride to get AC cert) before we deploy this summer
Finally, other stuff. Charleston does airdrop and SOLL II. With that comes alert. We constantly have crews sitting alerts dedicated to the JCS to go anywhere, in a hurry. So just because you ain’t flying doesn’t mean you ain’t working. There are a lot of different missions to be filled here, dare I say something for everyone. C-17’s were my first choice out of pilot training and I’d do it again (I’d stop and think about C-21 to Ramstein after that rousing motivation in another thread
What about flight hours for McChord AFB C-17 pilots?
I’m an airdropper… ditto for McChord (Lots of locals), except for airdrop. We only do airdrop on Tuesday or Thursday, or if its some sorta weekend training line (only happen once in a while though). Lots of sims. Plenty of time flying on friday nights, saturdays and sundays. We dont sit alert. Typically we have more tails/crews in the system because of that.
I head to Anchorage in a few weeks. Once we get tails I will let you guys know how things are there.
I have heard that KWRI guys are taking over at the Deid soon and that after our squadron, and one other McChord squadron, the Travis guys will be deploying to take over the ‘North’ side of the operation.