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1/17/2017 12:00 AM
Breaking New Ground - First SAC Mission to Timbuktu
17 JAN 2017 – PÁPA - - In late November 2016, SAC completed its first mission directly to Timbuktu in Mali. Previous missions have gone to Bamako, the capital of Mali. There the cargo has been transferred to other smaller Aircraft i.e C-130’s, for further transport to Timbuktu. The mission was carried out on request from Sweden, and the cargo consisted of personal equipment to the Swedish soldiers in the fifth rotation of the Swedish deployment in Mali.


For the first time ever. A SAC C-17 on the apron in Timbuktu. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt

The mission starts from SAC home station in Pápa, and goes to Örebro in Sweden for loading. Then via Majorca to Timbuktu, where landing takes place as planned in the morning. Since the airport in Timbuktu is more exposed and has infrastructure and security of basic character, the mission has been preceded by careful research work of SAC Intel, the Command and Control squadron (C2), the Heavy Airlift Squadron (HAS) and the Ravens from Heavy Airlift Wing Combat Security (HAWCS).

After unloading the cargo to the Swedish force and loading of cargo that is going back to Sweden, SAC 02 heads to Bamako where the aircraft will be refueled. In Bamako, the flying crew chiefs discover that several fan blades in one of the aircraft’s engines are severely bent. The damage which can be caused by a bird strike is severe enough to interfere with the mission, and the aircrew decide to remain in Bamako, to order parts and fix the problem on the spot.


 Swedish soldiers give a helping hand in getting the cargo off the aircraft in Timbuktu. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt

Now intensive work begins. Both for the aircrew and for the staff at C2, the Logistics Support Squadron (LSS), and Boeing at the home station in Pápa. Many contacts have to be taken, both on location in Bamako, and with the staff at the home station. What is the address of the nearest civilian shipping offices, if the parts are to be sent using such a provider? What alternatives are there to get the parts to Mali? Where can the aircraft be parked while waiting for the spare parts to arrive? When will the spare parts be here? Many questions need answers. In addition, the aircrew need a place to stay and get meals. The Swedish and Norwegian NSE’s at the MINUSMA transit camp in Bamako help out in an excellent manner. The aircrew also needs to make up a schedule in which the whole crew helps with monitoring of the aircraft. Although HAWCS are on this mission, as a critical part in keeping both the crew and the aircraft safe in an austere environment, the HAWCS team are not designed to monitor the aircraft 24/7 for several days.


HAWCS operator on Look-Out in Timbuktu. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt

The spare parts arrive. First with a flight from Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, to Gao, in Mali. There the parts go on to a German C-160 Transall carrying them to Bamako. The spare parts are finally delivered by the Dutch MOVCON to the flying crew chiefs. They then work all day in the hot climate to replace the damaged fan blades in the engine.  The next morning, SAC Mission 11SWE71B continues its journey to Ramstein in Germany, where testing at Boeing’s facility will be conducted. On the way to Ramstein, they must however first land in Palma de Mallorca again. This to correct an error in the de-icing function of the engine. An error that could not be fixed in Bamako.


The faulty de-icing valve is replaced in Majorca. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt

On a Saturday, four days later than planned, SAC 02 lands back at home station in Pápa. The last part of the mission has been to deliver the cargo they took on board several days earlier in Timbuktu, back to Örebro in Sweden. A longer mission than expected is over. The mission has delivered the first cargo directly to Timbuktu in support of one of the SAC member countries. This means that the Swedish team in Timbuktu will have their equipment in place in Timbuktu as they rotate there. When shipments go to Bamako for further transport to Timbuktu, it often takes several weeks before the soldiers receive their complete personal equipment. Through this direct mission to Timbuktu, one of the SAC C-17s has helped to make life a little easier for the Swedish troops in Mali.


Mission accomplished. The cargo is off-loaded in Sweden. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt

About the Strategic Airlift Capability

Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), established in 2008, is a multinational program that provides its 12 member nations with assured access to military airlift capability by owning and operating three Boeing C-17A Globemaster III long-range cargo aircraft.

SAC is based at the Hungarian Defence Forces (HDF) Pápa Air Base, Hungary.

The SAC Nations are the NATO members Hungary (program host nation), Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States and NATO Partnership for Peace nations Finland and Sweden. Each participating nation owns a share of the available flight hours of the SAC C-17As to serve the needs of their national defence, NATO, EU or UN commitments and humanitarian relief efforts.

SAC consists of the 12-nation Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW) and the NATO Airlift Management Programme Office (NAM PO). The HAW is the operational unit and the NAM PO, an integral part of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), is the acquisition and sustainment authority of the SAC C-17A weapon system.

NAM PO contracts Boeing via a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement to provide technical support for the SAC C-17A aircraft.