Friday, September 5, 2014

TOP STORY >> A day in the life of a pilot

By Airman 1st Class Cliffton Dolezal
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Since 1955, Airmen stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base have developed and cultivated a unique history that has carved out a rich heritage in the history books of the U.S. Air Force. 

Although the base mission has changed over the years, the motivation to achieve air supremacy has not. The men and women of the 19th Airlift Wing soar for success every day; they crave excellence, while ensuring safe, efficient mission execution. 

“We do combat airlift, and we do it better than anyone in the world,” said Col. Patrick Rhatigan, the 19th Airlift Wing commander.

C-130 combat airlift would not be possible at Little Rock AFB without each Airman across the installation, but ultimately relying on the aircrew to execute the mobility mission. However, there’s much more to aircrew than meets the eye, specifically for pilots. 

Being an Air Force pilot involves much more than flying. 

“Flying is only about 20 percent of what we do,” said Capt. Brian Boardman, a 41st Airlift Squadron C-130J pilot.

An incredible amount of work has to be completed before even stepping to the aircraft. 

The day before a flight, the pilots gather and sort out duties to be accomplished before the pre-mission brief. These duties include: gathering information on the weather for the day of the flight, determining how much fuel is needed for their mission, ensuring that there is an emergency plan, as well as collecting the proper charts, cards, and official forms.

The game plan must be accounted for prior to the mission brief; every detail must be addressed.

When the additional duties are complete, the group shows up four to five hours before stepping to the aircraft. The first stop in the squadron is the aircrew flight equipment shop, where they are issued helmets and bags to load up flight logs and maps.  

This is followed by an “intel” brief where the pilots are informed by an intelligence operations manager about simulated threats during their flight. At Little Rock AFB, the threats are all hypothetical but essential for training purposes. 

The group then goes into the mission brief. During the briefing, the group discusses the duties that the individuals were assigned the day prior as well as the mission objective and training opportunities. 

After all briefings have been completed the crew will then step to the flight line

Once they reach their assigned aircraft, the crew will perform a walk around; checking for any visible signs of damage or discrepancies with the aircraft that would not allow them to execute their mission.

After the walk around is complete, they will then start up the four-engine, fixed-winged aircraft and taxi to the single busiest runway in the Air Force. Once the crew has been given the “OK” for takeoff by the control tower, the C-130 will go from zero to approximately 120 mph in a matter of seconds to achieve lift off the ground and fly into the wild blue yonder.

Depending on the mission, Airmen can rehearse dropping container delivery systems, heavy equipment, troops or practice flying at low altitudes. 

“I was drawn to the C-130 because of the unique mission sets that it is capable of performing, and I have been fortunate to experience many of these,” said Boardman. “The challenge of performing a variety of missions, especially in a deployed environment that is dynamic and challenging, is incredibly thrilling and rewarding.” 

Once the Herk is on the ground and met by maintainers, the pilots perform another walk around of the aircraft. The crew and maintainers discuss any discrepancies or mechanical failures that were experienced during the flight. 

The group then checks their equipment back in at the squadron and prepares for a detailed debrief, which recalls every event that took place during the mission and determines if the set objectives were met. 

The crew culminates their 10 to 12-hour day by completing any necessary paperwork. While they days may be long, Boardman said the time seems to fly by. 

“When we are in the aircraft, we are functioning at such a high intensity that time seems to go by at a faster pace than normal,” said Boardman. “There are always opportunities to do something different, and experience something you have never done before. The days we are able to fly can be considered a “break from the office,” a chance for us to go out and perform the core job we were all trained to do.”

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