Airdrop Training Event over Gyulafirátót Training Range. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen.
The three C-17 cargo jets of the SAC, based at Hungarian Defence Forces Pápa Air Base in Western Hungary, are ready to execute a broad range of military airlift missions, including single-ship airdrops. The 12 member nations of the SAC program use this capability to support their national training events and their participation in multinational exercises throughout Europe. Airdrop missions require special skills from both the aircrews and the support personnel. In order to enhance readiness and to ensure safe mission execution, the Heavy Airlift Wing conducts an airdrop training event once per month. The regular airdrops are carried out over Gyulafirátót training range near the town of Veszprém, approximately 50 kilometers to the southeast from Pápa Air Base.
Captain Michael Hank of the United States Air Force, Chief of Wing Tactics and a C-17 pilot at the HAW, emphasizes that "the airdropping of equipment and personnel acts as a force multiplier for each of the 12 SAC member nations by enabling a quick and effective delivery of supplies". In merely 15 seconds, the C-17 has the capability to deliver up to 40,000 kg (88,000 lbs) of life saving water, food, fuel, and munitions to any location throughout the world. Due to the aircraft's decreased footprint during ingress, the airdropping of cargo is a safer alternative than general airland delivery in terms of threat exposure time. This capability gives each SAC nation the power to immediately respond to a natural disaster or greatly decrease their ground logistical supply chains. However, readiness cannot be maintained without regular training. In the words of Captain Hank: "Here in the HAW, we train like we fight. Monthly airdrop training events allow our aircrews to be ready to safely execute a real world airdrop at a moment's notice".
Release of a Heavy Cargo Pallet over Gyulafirátót Training Range. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen.
Airdrops are not only a safe alternative to general air-land delivery; they are also a cost-effective means of delivering cargo to challenging locations. Introduction of the Low Cost Aerial Delivery System (LCADS) has made it possible for the HAW to offer a low-cost aerial delivery solution for its member nations. Being a modular suite of expendable parachutes, platforms and polypropylene containers, the LCADS is ideal for missions where recovery of the parachute system and equipment is not feasible. Unlike the G-12 cargo parachutes used with traditional Container Delivery System (CDS) airdrops, LCADS parachutes are designed for one-time use. By utilizing the LCADS, the HAW can supply its member nations' troops or deliver humanitarian aid both swiftly and cost-effectively.
Planning and preparing the payload is the responsibility of the HAW Logistics and Support Squadron (LSS) Aerial Port. Captain Jason Watson of the United States Air Force, the HAW LSS Air Movements Officer, emphasizes that each airdrop requires the Aerial Port personnel to invest many hours to prepare each aerial delivery package. Practicing airdrops helps Aerial Port technicians increase their proficiency, build efficacy, minimize mistakes, and decrease the time it takes to get it all done. Indeed, there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes in rigging of the packages. Therefore, regular practice is the only way to ensure safe mission execution.
Aerial Port Technicians Load a SAC C-17 for an Airdrop Training Event. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen.
As Captain Watson points out: "If we do not get it right, the parachutes do not deploy properly, and units do not receive the equipment and supplies they need, where and when they need them. Thanks to all the practice, when the loadmaster comes to inspect the packages, our guys have nothing to worry about. The monthly airdrops ensure that we are ready to prepare a real airdrop package quickly and correctly whenever we are requested to do so." Furthermore, Aerial Port technicians are constantly innovating new solutions and better ways of doing things; every airdrop is an opportunity to identify improvements for the next time. For example, they have designed and crafted many custom-built items to support the aerial delivery mission.
In order to enhance their skills and protect the environment, Aerial Port technicians recover the dropped payloads from Gyulafirátót training range together with Hungarian Defence Forces personnel. Cargo pallets are retrieved from the drop zone with 4x4 forklift vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. According to Captain Watson, observing the airdrop training event on location is a special moment for Aerial Port personnel: "When it is time for the airdrop and we need to assemble a team to recover the equipment, there are no shortage of volunteers. The guys get a welcome break from the office, and ultimately, there is a huge sense of accomplishment when you can watch the fruit of your labor and see the payoff for all the hours put in. When the parachutes open up, and the package hits the target area safely, our Aerial Port technicians know that it would not have happened without them."
Aerial Port Technicians Recover the Parachutes and Payloads from Gyulafirátót Training Range. Photo: HAW / Tuomas Saavalainen.
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About the Strategic Airlift Capability
The Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), established in 2008, is an independent and multinational program that provides access to military airlift capability to its 12 partner nations by owning and operating three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets.
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-17s to serve the needs of their national defense, NATO, EU or UN commitments and humanitarian relief efforts.
SAC organizations consist of the operational arm, the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW) and the NATO Airlift Management Programme Office (NAM PO) that is the acquisition and sustainment authority of the SAC C-17 weapon system. It also provides site and administrational support to the HAW. NAM PO is an integral part of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA).
The Boeing Company is contracted by the NAM PO to provide technical support for the C-17 aircraft.