Typical day for 517th anything but ordinary
11/22/2002 - ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska
(AFPN) -- It was another typical day for aircrew members of the
517th Airlift Squadron. But a typical day for a 517th "Firebird" is
anything but ordinary.
started in darkness as the aircrew entered their double doors. Patches of
light on the flightline ramp surrounded the shadowy figures of parked C-130
Hercules in the distance.
Three ARCTEC Alaska contract employees who operate
a radar site in Fort Yukon, Alaska, waited on one of the 517th's C-130s to
deliver food and other essential supplies to the village's runway.
north of the Arctic Circle, with a winter population of 700, there is no such
thing as "a run to the store" in Fort Yukon.
mission briefing room full of aircrew members, aircraft commander Maj.
"Wiley" Dickinson started his morning briefing. A video of the
Indian Mountain radar site, the first stop on the flight schedule, played on
a TV screen.
runway has a 6-percent grade," explained Dickinson. "This type of
site is called a 'one-way site' because you can only land and take off in one
He pointed out
trees at the end of the runway and explained they have grown quite a bit
since the video was made, so his crew would know what to expect upon arrival.
He went over the plan for an assault-type landing and the fuel weight limits
for the 4,100-foot runway.
fuel we can land here with is 130,000 pounds," he explained to his
attentive crew. Dickinson knows quite a bit about short landings, having once
stopped a C-130 in less than 1,000 feet.
the briefing, adding when Indian Mountain's runway is covered with snow, the
workers paint a dye marking down the centerline to help the C-130s land.
about how the ramp can get very icy; about the "commit-point," at
which the pilot will land the plane even if an engine flames out; and about the improbability of a go-around after a
certain point in the approach.
little airplane with his hand, Dickinson demonstrated the unusual altitude
the plane will be at in order to land uphill.
have to add power to get to the end of the runway," he joked.
guidance on the fairly standard landing at the Fort Yukon site, the crew
moved into an adjacent room to check weather conditions.
Half an hour
later, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Begley and Airman 1st Class Mike Eller, loadmasters,
were out on the ramp, supervising the loading of four pallets into the belly
of a C-130. Their breath lingered in the cold air. Maintenance personnel
scurried around the four large propellers, disconnecting heaters used to keep
the seals in each engine from cracking, according to Maj. Tom Cole, assistant
director of operations.
In the cockpit, Capt. Sean
Finnan, co-pilot; 2nd Lt. Michael Morris, navigator; and Chief Master Sgt.
Robert Cummings, the flight engineer, strapped into their seats and began
preliminary checklists. With the last pallet secured, the crew settled into
The C-130 Hercules rumbled down
the runway, the passengers gripping whatever they could find to avoid being
thrown out of their seats from the sudden power of the four propeller-driven
engines. As the metal bird took to the air and gained altitude, violent
vibration changed to the gentle pressure of gravity.
When the flight approached Indian Mountain, the
crew received bad news: winds were gusting to 28 knots, out of safety limits
for landing by eighty knots. Dickinson
circled until the fuel he had available was just enough to get the plane to
Fort Yukon and back to Elmendorf.
Obviously disappointed, Dickinson headed east
toward Fort Yukon. "We
failed to complete the mission," Dickinson said. "The mission was
to get that cargo to the site, and we couldn't do it."
headed to Fort Yukon. Once there, the loadmasters rushed into action, pushing
the first pallet off the C-130 and onto the prongs of a waiting forklift.
This quick flight to interior Alaska and back to deliver radar parts and a
month's worth of food might not seem like a big feat.
Chief Master Sgt. Robert Cummings, 517th Airlift
Squadron flight engineer, runs C-130 aircraft systems during a recent mission
to a remote site in Alaska. Cummings has been a flight engineer for 21 years.
(Photo by 2nd Lt. Amy Hansen)
planning and orchestrating these trips is like choreographing a ballet. The
611th Air Support Group here re-supplies Fort Yukon, Indian Mountain, and the
16 other remote radar sites; King Salmon and Galena, forward operating bases;
and Eareckson Air Station, located on Shemya Island.
To do this,
the 611th coordinates with the 732nd Air Mobility Squadron here, which
matches cargo with intended destinations. Then the 732nd AMS meets with the
schedulers at the 517th to plan each week's flights.
The 611th Air
Support Squadron's director of operations notifies the contractors at the
radar sites of the scheduled supply missions. The contractors arrange to meet
the flight when it lands, and to download their supplies. In addition,
variables like weather, manning and maintenance influence the flight.
complicated process is behind each pallet that arrives at a radar site, and
it happens each day -- just another day in the life of a Firebird.
A C-130 Hercules from the 517th Airlift Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force
Base, Alaska, sits on a frozen runway at Fort Yukon after delivering goods to
the remote site. (Photo by 2nd Lt. Amy Hansen)