SAC C-17 taking off from Pápa Air Base on 7 January 2016. Photo: HAW / OF-1 Tuomas Saavalainen
During 2015, the SAC fleet of three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets flew a total of 2,818.9 flight hours on 293 airlift missions, transporting more than 7,200 metric tons (nearly 16,000,000 lbs) of cargo and almost 17,000 passengers. Mission performance remained steady, although the completion of the first heavy maintenance cycle of the SAC C-17s reduced capacity during the first half of 2015. Every five years the aircraft are required to go through depot-level maintenance at the Boeing facility in San Antonio, Texas. The work included several modifications and a full re-paint of the planes. With careful planning of the heavy maintenance work, the SAC was able to minimize the loss of flight hours and carry out airlift missions requested by its 12 member nations.
Outside the scheduled maintenance cycle, SAC C-17s have achieved a world-class Mission Capable rate of approximately 94%. In 2015, the SAC member nations utilized the versatile C-17s in a wide variety of military airlift missions around the world. The SAC cargo jets provided support to several multinational exercises in Europe. Among these were the deployment readiness exercise Saber Junction 2015 in March, logistics exercise Capable Logistician 2015 in June, interoperability exercise Allied Spirit II in August and combat engineer exercise Dagger Resolve 2015 in December. The exercises included challenging airdrops of vehicles and other heavy equipment. While the SAC did not participate in the live exercise phase of Trident Juncture 2015, NATO's largest exercise since 2002, the SAC member nations were able to utilize the C-17s in the deployment of troops and equipment to Italy, Spain and Portugal, where the exercise took place.
SAC C-17 performing a practice airdrop near Veszprém, Hungary on 14 January 2016. Photo: HAW / OF-1 Tuomas Saavalainen
In addition to participating in many exercises in Europe, the SAC C-17s have supported NATO, EU and UN operations around the world. As several SAC member nations take part in the EU and UN missions in Mali (EUTM and MINUSMA, respectively), the capital of Mali, Bamako, has emerged as a regular destination for the SAC C-17s. In addition, SAC has continued to provide strategic airlift to its member nations participating in Resolute Support, the NATO-led training, advice and assistance mission in Afghanistan. However, perhaps the most challenging mission in 2015 was the aeromedical evacuation of 10 seriously injured victims of a night club fire from Bucharest, Romania to the United Kingdom and Norway. The ambulance flight was carried out with a very short notice from 8 to 9 November, at the request of SAC member nation Romania.
The year 2015 marked the change of command at the Heavy Airlift Wing. On 1 July, Colonel Trevor Nitz of the United States Air Force assumed command of the wing from Colonel Frank Rombouts of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. On the same day, Colonel Bjørn Gohn-Hellum of the Royal Norwegian Air Force was appointed as the Vice Commander of the HAW. The official change of command ceremony at Pápa Air Base was attended by SAC personnel and their families, the SAC Steering Board, embassies of the 12 SAC nations and organizations affiliated with the program. In his speech, Colonel Nitz emphasized that the SAC is an outstanding team, which excels in mission execution.
SAC Hangar Complex and the new office building under construction at Pápa Air Base. Photo: HAW / OF-1 Tuomas Saavalainen
The SAC Infrastructure Development Project (IDP), approved by the member nations in 2013 and managed by the NATO Airlift Management Programme Office (NAM PO) of the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), progressed rapidly in 2015. Construction of the new SAC permanent facilities at Pápa Air Base was launched with site preparation work in February 2015. The compound includes new maintenance facilities, a warehouse, an office building and a multi-purpose hangar able to accommodate a C-17. In 2015, construction work progressed as scheduled and the buildings are to be delivered and occupied in 2016. Infrastructure projects completed in 2015 include a gym renovation, a new security perimeter fence around the parking apron and the new Transient Hazardous Material (HAZMAT) Storage Facility. The new HAZMAT facility enables SAC to respond to a broader spectrum of its member nations' airlift needs. Furthermore, Hungary, the host nation of the SAC program, has continued to invest in the development of Pápa Air Base. The new Air Traffic Control Tower, funded by the Hungarian Ministry of Defence, will be operational in early 2016.
The new Air Traffic Control Tower at Pápa Air Base. Photo: HAW / OF-1 Tuomas Saavalainen
Year 2015 ended with another success as a four-year simulator training contract was awarded to Boeing on 31 December. The new arrangement will enable HAW aircrews to conduct their continuation simulator training at a Boeing-owned simulator in Farnborough, United Kingdom, representing a significant increase in operational flexibility. The $9,500,000 contract was negotiated by the United States Air Force in response to an amendment to the existing Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case providing continuation simulator training to the SAC. The amendment was requested by the NAM PO, which manages the SAC C-17 weapon system. Acquiring and operating an Aircrew Training System simulator at Pápa Air Base remains a potential future development.
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 (NAM) Programme Office that is the acquisition and sustainment authority of the SAC C-17 weapon system. It also provides site and administrational support to the HAW.
The Boeing Company is contracted by SAC to provide technical support for the C-17 aircraft.
Text: HAW / OF-1 Tuomas Saavalainen