Friday, July 17, 2009

12-nation Heavy Airlift Wing takes flight with first C-17

SAC 01 takes off beginning its 5,300-nautical-mile maiden flight July 14 from Long Beach, Calif., to Papa Air Base, Hungary. The aircraft is the first of three C-17 Globemaster IIIs to be acquired by the 12-nation Strategic Airlift Capability Program. The Hungarian air base is home to the SAC Program's multinational, operational-level unit, the Heavy Airlift Wing, which will officially be activated July 27. (Courtesy photo)

by Maj. Cristin Marposon, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Affairs

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- Twelve nations saw their dreams of strategic airlift come true as the multinational Heavy Airlift Wing they've built from scratch in less than a year received the "keys" to its first C-17 Globemaster III July 14 in Long Beach, Calif.

During a ceremony at Boeing's final assembly facility, Col. John Zazworsky who commands the HAW in a multinational capacity, officially received the first of three C-17s to be acquired by the Strategic Airlift Capability Program's consortium.

The consortium includes NATO member nations Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States, as well as Partnership for Peace nations Finland and Sweden.

"This is an unprecedented milestone for these 12 nations," Colonel Zazworsky said. "They've shared a common need for strategic airlift, yet they've each faced the financial obstacle of independently acquiring a heavy airlifter. Now, they collectively own an amazing machine that will serve them well.

"Since September 2008 when the consortium's memorandum of understanding went into effect, we've tirelessly worked to build from scratch what's essentially a multinational air force -- without a real template of any kind," the colonel said. "Our timeline has been aggressive, but we're prepared to safely fly SAC 01."

While some of the 11 European nations participating in the program own tactical airlifters, including the C-130, SAC 01, as the first C-17 is known, represents the first strategic airlift asset for all 11 nations. And given each nation's commitment to support NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the HAW's eventual C-17 fleet of three will make transporting troops and supplies to Afghanistan more efficient and economical.

Colonel Zazworsky knows this fact well, having flown the C-17 himself for years and having commanded C-17 units both stateside and in expeditionary roles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"SAC 01 is going to be a huge enabler for all the nations involved," he explained. "And that's really what it's all about -- building capacity through partnership."

At the hands of HAW pilots from Norway, Sweden and the U.S., SAC 01 departed Long Beach for Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., shortly after the delivery ceremony, beginning its 5,300-nautical-mile maiden flight home to Pápa Air Base, Hungary, the HAW's home base.

But to make the most of the miles, HAW loadmasters, also from Norway, Sweden and the U.S., will load SAC 01 at Charleston AFB with specialized heavy equipment, like cargo loading vehicles and forklifts, which will enable the HAW to carry out logistics support functions at Pápa AB.

"I feel fortunate to be on the first trip with the airplane," said Royal Norwegian Air Force Capt. Havard Brorby, a HAW loadmaster who trained at the C-17 Aircrew Training Center at Altus AFB, Okla., this spring. "My country would never be able to have an aircraft like this, but now it's possible."

According to Colonel Zazworsky, SAC 01 will begin operational missions in support of the nations' requirements by the end of the month, just days after the wing's official activation ceremony July 27. Many of those missions will be flown to meet the nations' commitments to ISAF.

With the second and third C-17s rounding out the HAW fleet of heavy airlifters in September and October, respectively, the HAW anticipates flying roughly 630 hours before the end of 2009, and scheduling more than 3,100 flying hours in 2010.

The nations' varying investments in the SAC Program dictate their proportionate share of the flying hours as well as their proportionate contribution of personnel. For instance, the U.S. has provided roughly 30 percent of the funding, will use 30 percent of the annual flying hours and has committed 41 Airmen, or roughly 30 percent of the HAW's 131 total positions.

The HAW itself is a small wing by many nations' standards, but other entities will augment the overall mission. Some 70 Boeing contractors will provide material management and depot maintenance support for the HAW's C-17s. A NATO agency of roughly three dozen individuals will handle acquisition, logistics support and financial matters. And finally, the Hungarian air force, as host at Pápa AB, will manage the airfield, air traffic control operations and base infrastructure support.