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Air Commando squadrons at Eglin undertake historic flight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Although the 9th Special Operations and 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadrons share the same runway as the F-35 Lightning II, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and commercial aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the units and the Airmen who work there belong to the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

And despite being geographically separated from their fellow Air Commandos at Hurlburt Field, Fla., both squadrons lived up to the wing's motto of "Any Time, Any Place" while conducting a simultaneous take-off, the largest of its kind, of four MC-130P Combat Shadows at the Eglin flightine July 25.

Adding to the complexity of the endeavor, the 9th SOS aircraft, maintained by 1st SOMXS Airmen, seamlessly merged with an MC-130H Combat Talon II from the Hurlburt-based 15th SOS during the departure, creating a rare "dissimilar formation" normally reserved for combat in deployed environments.

Lt. Col. Travis Hill, 9th SOS director of operations, said the squadron has performed several two and three-ship elements in the past, but never four Shadows at one time.

"We can't recall ever launching a four-ship formation of Combat Shadows out of here," Hill said. "Our capabilities go beyond aerial refueling, and this just shows that MC-130s from the 9th and 15th SOS can come together to support any task, any time, any place. We've worked with the 15th and scheduled dissimilar formations many times in preparation for this event, both of these were the highlights of today's exercise."

Prior to take-off, Capt. Zak Blom, 9th SOS pilot, worked with his fellow Air Commandos to ensure total familiarity with each aircraft's capabilities. Predictability became the key, with so many aircraft operating so closely together, each crew needed to know what the other was doing during all phases of the flight.

"This type of large formation doesn't happen very often," Blom said. "You have to know what the airplane in front and behind you is going to do in any situation. By the time it came to execution, everyone was on the same page with the plan."

Inside the Shadows, Senior Airman Eric Bell, 9th SOS loadmaster, made certain each member of his crew not only knew their safety items and gear but what to do in any emergency.

"The job comes first, and everyone puts in 110 percent to get the mission done," Bell said. "This exercise shows our planning capabilities, as well as our ability to interact with other squadrons. We're able to adapt to any situation and work well with other aircraft from there."

Long before they arrived at the scene, the aircrew entrusted the safety of the aircraft, as well as the mission's potential success, to the 1st SOMXS. With "Never a Doubt" as their squadron's credo, the 1st SOMXS maintainers spent countless hours guaranteeing the C-130s could perform beyond the levels expected during the flight.

"Those guys stayed in over the weekend to pre-flight all of our aircraft and support this effort," Hill said. "They worked hard and did an outstanding job."

Senior Airman Jarred Shockey, 1st SOMXS crew chief, conducted pre-flight checkups before taxiing the aircraft to the runway. He said that he and his fellow 1st SOMXS maintainers do whatever it takes to get the aircrews in the air.

"It's astonishing how the crews mix so well with maintenance to do any mission," Shockey said. "This is a job that needs to be done, and we all pull our own weight."

Once all five aircraft lined up on the runway, each sequential C-130 roared from a standstill at the start to a thundering dash along the runway, with mere seconds between each take-off. In less than one minute, all five aircrafts' tires left contact with the ground and soon became five aligned specks along the horizon of the wild blue yonder.

The aircrews had to fly around a 2,000-foot space from each other at less than 15 seconds apart, a much different interval than customarily used, said Capt. Thomas Ryan, 9th SOS co-pilot.

"The mission itself was somewhat out of the ordinary for us in the 9th SOS, but not beyond our abilities," Ryan said. "The same can be said about the 15th SOS. This mission displays the unique ability that [Air Force Special Operations Command] has in planning, coordinating and flying with many assets involved."

After the Talon II returned to its squadron at Hurlburt Field, the four 9th SOS aircraft flew overhead the Eglin flightline. Blom said the aircrafts' recovery over Eglin served not only to conclude the current mission, but to highlight the hard work of the maintenance Airmen.

"When the Shadows recovered to Eglin in a four-ship formation pattern, it was kind of a tribute to the 1st SOMXS and their hard work," he said. "Successful generation of four MC-130Ps and an MC-130H speaks volumes on the overall teamwork and ability to coordinate between two flying squadrons and two maintenance squadrons."

This single flight may be over, but the missions of the 9th SOS and the 1st SOMXS continue to serve as a reminder that, despite their current locations, those squadrons are just as much a part of the Air Commando legacy as the 1st SOW Airmen who call Hurlburt Field their home.