The flight crew of the Strategic Airlift Capability Heavy Airlift Wing C-17 SAC 01 carry out preflight checks prior to the start of the 1000th SAC mission at HDF Pápa Air Base, Hungary on June 12, 2014. Photo: HAW / Ville Tuokko
The distance between the Hungarian Defence Forces (HDF) Pápa Air Base in Western Hungary and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas is over 9.000 kilometers that is travelled by a C-17 cargo jet in approximately 12 hours. For the Heavy Airlift Wing, the operational arm of the 12-nation Strategic Airlift Capability Programme, missions supporting the airlift needs of the member nations that take the SAC C-17s to different continents are a common part of the everyday life of a military airlift unit.
Ever since the beginning of flight operations in 2009, the three SAC C-17 cargo jets have amassed over 13.000 flight hours in support of the SAC nations’ national defense and EU, UN, NATO commitments and humanitarian missions in Europe, North / Central America, Africa and Asia.
From the execution point of view, the mission from the wing home base in Pápa, Hungary to San Antonio was a routine job, but as a milestone of the SAC program it was very special. For the Heavy Airlift Wing, it was the 1000th mission ever flown by the wing C-17s. It also marked the beginning of the Heavy Maintenance cycle of its aircraft that reach the fifth year of their service life in 2014.
Every five years of service life the C-17 enters the Heavy Maintenance (HM) cycle as part of the planned maintenance schedule by the aircraft manufacturer. The extensive four-month work includes a full inspection, maintenance and updates of aircraft systems/structures, and a complete repainting of the airframe. The goal of HM is to ensure the safe and reliable operation of the aircraft during their next five year period of operations. For SAC C-17s the work will be conducted by the Boeing Company at its Global Services & Support (GS & S) business unit in San Antonio.
In addition to Heavy Maintenance, Boeing is also responsible of the onsite daily maintenance of the aircraft and its support equipment at Pápa Air Base, as well as providing engineering, technical, and supply management support to SAC.
During the Heavy Maintenance, SAC C-17s will go through an extensive four-month work that among other things consists of a full inspection and maintenance of aircraft systems and structures, including sanding and repainting of the external airframe structure. The aircraft will also receive updates to their systems.
The work on SAC 01 is expected to be completed by October 2014 with SAC 02 and SAC 03 entering the San Antonio production line back-to-back after SAC 01. The Heavy Maintenance Cycle for the SAC fleet is expected to be completed by June 2015.
During the maintenance SAC will keep supporting the airlift needs of its 12 nations in all areas of airlift operations ranging from operational airlift missions to support for training. Among other commitments SAC C-17s currently support the U.S Army Europe-led security cooperation exercise Saber Strike 2014 in the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The support consists of cargo delivery missions by a request from SAC member nation Norway.