86th Airlift Wing rides the Wild West

Story and photo by Capt. Michael Trimble 37th Airlift Squadron

Maj. Robert May and Capt. Justine Perlberg turn a 37th Airlift Squadron C-130 onto final approach course, just a mile from touchdown.

They hold the nose up over a rocky hill just before reaching the landing zone, then reduce power to set the 55-ton plane down on a 3,000-foot strip of dirt.

They throw the propellers into reverse momentarily and apply brakes, bringing the plane to a halt just 2,000 feet after touching down. 

It might sound like an operation in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Horn of Africa, but this was actually a training mission on the Fort Carson Range in Colorado.

Major May and Captain Perlberg were part of a three-week off-station training designed to prepare 37th AS aircrew for missions to austere locations across the globe.

 “The training missions we were able to fly there provided unique opportunities for our crews to squeeze several months of training into just a few weeks,” said Major May, mission commander. “When you’re on an off-station trainer, you can really focus on improving your flying instead of the many other tasks we’re all responsible for at home.”

The first week of the trip, the 37th AS aircrew and personnel from the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron supported the Military Freefall School and the Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron at Laguna Army Airfield in Yuma, Ariz.

The 86th Airlift Wing crews provided 12 high-altitude low-opening airdrops per day, certifying two 86th crews for space shuttle support capability along the way.

The following week, the two C-130s staged training missions with the 731st Airlift Squadron out of Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Members of the Reservist unit trained the 37th AS pilots on dirt-airstrip landings, a vital qualification for U.S. Air Forces in Europe crews operating in expeditionary locations throughout Africa and Afghanistan. 

The two units also joined forces for night “interfly” missions, flying together in formation.

“If we as a C-130 community ever have to provide a large invasion force, this is how it will be,” said Maj. Rich Pantusa, 731st AS mission commander. “It will require plenty of flexibility, and everyone will have to adapt quickly. Each unit is accustomed to its own way of doing things, and it is good to see other units’

techniques firsthand so we’re prepared to work together in a real-world operation.”

The grand finale of the off-station trainer took place in the Nevada desert, just north of Nellis Air Force Base, where the 37th AS took part in a semiannual exercise planned by students of the U.S. Air Force Mobility Weapons School.

Near the end of their five-month school, the students put their new training to the test, integrating more than 10 cargo and fighter aircraft types into the Mobility Air Forces Exercise.

When the crew arrived, one of the students was a familiar face.

Capt. Justin Brumley, a fellow 37th AS member, was attending the C-130 Weapons Instructor Course Class when the crew arrived.

The MAFEX was one of his final hurdles before achieving weapons officer status.

 “Learning to communicate what we needed to the fighter escorts and to the command and control aircraft was like learning another language – each community has such a different mission and different knowledge base,” Captain Brumley said. “We also got to teach those folks how we operate, and all the techniques that go into a successful formation airdrop.”

Though flying in Europe presents many of its own challenges, Captain Brumley’s peers from Ramstein agreed that the complexity of the MAFEX provided a

higher level of training than they see at home station. 

“Everyone involved learned something from participating in the MAFEX,” said Capt. Justin Dahman, an evaluator pilot at the 37th AS. “You can’t get this level of realism training in your own backyard.”

Less than 24 hours after the successful MAFEX, the 37th AS and 86th MXS crews were airborne again.

This time, the goal was a little simpler: get everyone home in plenty of time for the holidays.

Two days and another ocean-crossing later, that too was a mission accomplished.