After a week filled with activities aimed at making the program and its employees even more proficient in their respective duties, SAC operations begin again. The first Monday after training week, a local airdrop training mission was conducted at the Balaton Drop Zone, just outside Veszprém. Both the aircrew conducting the drop and the Aerial Port team had meticulously prepared for the mission. Early in the morning, the cargo was loaded into the SAC C-17 by the Aerial Port load crew.
The drogue chute is out. It will soon be followed by the extraction chute and main chute. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt
Just after 08:00, another team from the Aerial Port, the recovery team, leaves Pápa Air Base for the hour-long drive to the Balaton Drop Zone. The recovery team is responsible for, as the name implies, recovering the various pallets and equipment that are going to be dropped this morning along with the parachutes that ensure everything makes it to the ground in one piece. On the schedule is an airdrop with two platforms for heavy equipment and four container delivery system (CDS) bundles. The training is conducted to keep the SAC airdrop aircrews’ skills current.
The team from Aerial Port recovers a platform for heavy equipment. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt
Captain LeRoi Edwards, the Aerial Port’s Air Movements Officer, explains that the whole event is also a display of interaction with the host nation, Hungary. A Drop Zone Control Officer and two Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) from the Hungarian Defense Forces (HDF) augment the recovery team to communicate with the aircraft overhead to ensure max safety and training accomplishment. In addition, logistics support personnel from Györ, Pápa, and Veszprém are also engaged to make the morning’s air delivery operations a success.An HDF JTAC communicates with the SAC C-17 overhead. Photo: HAW / Brandon T. Nicely
First out of the plane are the two platforms for heavy equipment, followed by the smaller CDS bundles on the next pass. Staff Sergeant John Cushman, Lead Rigger from the Aerial Port, explains that the bundles are equipped with different kinds of parachutes. Some of them are equipped with normal reusable parachutes, while others are equipped with a special type of single use parachute, developed for a system called a LCADS, or Low Cost Aerial Delivery System. The LCADS parachute is made from strips of polypropylene instead of nylon, the traditional material used in making parachutes. Coming prepacked, they save time, money, and are valuable for airdrops where parachute recovery is not likely due to unfavorable terrain, combat, equipment, etc.
CDS bundles equipped with single use LCADS parachutes. Photo: HAW / Henrik Gebhardt
To only drop a couple of CDS bundles might seem a bit on the low side, but in this particular training mission, the total number of items dropped have no impact on meeting the currency training objectives. To meet the training objectives the aircrews need to use the proper techniques and procedures to conduct the drop, how many bundles that go off the ramp is of secondary significance.
A platform for heavy equipment on its way to the ground. Photo: HAW / Brandon T. Nicely
Right on time, one of the SAC C-17s appears at the skyline a couple of minutes west of the drop zone. Intense radio traffic begins between the HDF JTACs and the pilot in command on board the aircraft. The JTACs give the pilots updated information on the weather and wind conditions in the drop zone, and also give them the all-clear to make the drop. After five passes, the local airdrop training concludes for the aircrew. Now the recovery work begins for the Aerial Port. Designated teams storm the drop zone and begin collecting the variety of specialized equipment, which is then repacked and loaded onto vehicles heading back to Pápa Air Base.
An Aerial Port technician recovers a parachute. Photo: HAW / Brandon T. Nicely
On a day that provided excellent drop zone conditions, the recovery experts make the recovery process of the bundles, platforms, and parachutes look easy, loading the equipment and making it back to Pápa in time for a late lunch. The Aerial Port will then begin the multi-day technical process of inspecting, preparing, and repacking equipment to be ready when the next mission “drops.”
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.