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News > Charleston Airmen guide KC-135 to safety
Charleston Airmen guide KC-135 to safety

Posted 3/25/2009   Updated 3/26/2009 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Brok McCarthy
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/25/2009 - SOUTHWEST ASIA  -- Thanks to aircrew actions onboard a C-17 Globemaster III, a KC-135R Stratotanker assigned to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, was able to safely land after its navigation systems failed.

Shortly after taking off from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, the crew from the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here, who are deployed from the 16th Airlift Squadron, Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., were notified the Stratotanker was having difficulties navigating. The refueler hadn't been able to return to Manas AB or go to its alternate landing location because it was flying in instrument flight rule conditions and couldn't see any visual references due to heavy cloud cover.

"There really wasn't much question at all to go help these guys, it was 'Hey, let's go do this, let's go help them out,'" said Capt. Chris Ford, 816 EAS pilot, a native of Albany, Ga. "We told Bagram we'd do this and they started [providing us the aircraft location]. We were initially concerned because the [air traffic] controller told us they were on emergency fuel, which fortunately turned out not to be the case."

He said they were only able to find the KC-135 because one of its crew members had the idea to use a hand-held global positioning unit from one of the aircraft's survival kits. The unit, while not good enough to land the aircraft, was enough to lead the C-17 aircrew to the distressed plane.

"Manas gave us an initial vector and we got a radio frequency so we could talk to [the KC-135 crew]," said Maj. Corbett Bufton, 816 EAS, a native of El Torro, Calif. "They basically passed us GPS coordinates that I could punch into the navigation computer so we could figure out where to intercept."

Within 20 minutes of the initial call going out, the 816 EAS Airmen had visual contact with the KC-135.

"He was at 31,000 feet and we were at 29,000 feet," Captain Ford said. "Once we had each other in sight ... he followed us back to Bagram."

Because of the training both aircrews had received before coming to the area of responsibility was part of the reason why the 816 EAS Airmen were able to guide the Stratotanker to safety.

"KC-135s and C-17s pilots go through the same training program all the way through pilot training, so we can work together pretty well," said Major Bufton. "Part of formation emergency procedure training is how to get into the chase-ship position if you do lose navigation."

Once they arrived in Bagram air space, the C-17 was able to establish a holding pattern for the two planes while the Stratotanker ran pre-landing checklists. Forty-five minutes later, the C-17 led them down for a visual approach onto Bagram's runway. The ground crew at Bagram was able to reboot the navigation systems onboard the KC-135, finding nothing wrong with them.

After the Stratotanker was safely on the ground, the 816 EAS Airmen continued on their original mission dropping supplies to a forward operating base in Afghanistan, arriving about two-and-a-half hours after they had originally planned.

"The actions of this C-17 aircrew illustrate the highest levels of professionalism and airmanship and truly represent every Airman in both the 16th Airlift Squadron and the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron," said Lt. Col Christopher Mann, 816 EAS commander. "Each member of our team, whether on the ground or in the air, had a hand in the success of this mission and we are proud to represent Charleston, the 385th Air Expeditionary Group, and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in such an outstanding manner."

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