***image1***B-1 Lancers, E-3 Sentrys, KC-10 Extenders can swoop in and out of Morón Air Base, Spain, where a small, but proficient, Air Force squadron ensures support for each and every aircraft, crew and passenger. It is even an alternative landing site for the space shuttle.
The 496th Air Base Squadron, which is assigned to the 86th Operations Group, ensured support to 966 aircraft from around the globe in 2006.
“We have a big mission and a small team,” said Lt. Col. Sean Gallagher, 496th ABS commander. “We function more like a big family, and that is how we are able to execute the mission.”
Morón is one of three world-wide transoceanic abort landing sites where special space shuttle landing equipment is installed, said Capt. Anthony Chu, 496th ABS airfield operations officer. If an emergency, such as an engine failure occurred during the initial moments of the launch, the shuttle could abort its ascent and maneuver to Morón for emergency landing.
The base features the U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s longest runway at 11,180 feet, which is one of the factors allowing the base to support the space shuttle mission. In addition to the runway, the 130-person squadron is always prepared and trained to sustain 24-hour operations and operate NASA-dependent equipment in case of an emergency landing.
NASA has plans to launch seven more shuttle missions over the next 14 months, with the next launch scheduled Oct. 23, said Colonel Gallagher.
While the squadron prepares for several shuttle missions, they stay busy with transient aircraft. Morón is strategically located between the U.S. and Southwest Asia. The combination of the base’s location and good weather conditions make it a hot spot for Coronet missions in which refueling aircraft “drag” fighter aircraft across the globe. These missions, along with others, have the capability to make the base swell with activity.
“We are always ready to support an influx of aircraft and people,” said Chief Master Sgt. Guy Smith, 496th ABS.
The squadron is prepared for the surge in population as it is equipped with not only a lodging facility, but also contingency dormitories. These dormitories recently housed the Kansas City Chiefs’ cheerleaders on their trip across Europe and Southwest Asia performing for servicemembers, said Chief Smith.
Beyond lodging, the sole Air Force unit on Morón is manned for 47 Air Force Specialty Codes to ensure not only airfield operations, but also military personnel flight functions, medical and dental care, communications support, security forces operations, logistics, contracting, services facilities and civil engineers are part of the team to support the squadron and its mission.
The 496th ABS operates the base alongside their Spanish counterparts who fly Eurofighters and P-3 Orion aircraft. Because of the close operations with the Spanish Air Force, several members of the 496th ABS speak Spanish fluently in order to work together cohesively.
The squadron works very similarly to a small wing, ensuring every aircraft mission coming into the base is supported.
The squadron’s patch says it all, “We project airpower.”