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McChord at ‘leading edge of homeland defense’: WADS, 62 AW play key role in defending United States airspace

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- An F-15 Eagle from Klamath Falls, Ore., flies alongside a McChord C-17 Globemaster III as part of a Simulated Penetration Air Defense Exercise scenario over central Washington in February. The C-17 is playing the role of a hijacked airliner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- An F-15 Eagle from Klamath Falls, Ore., flies alongside a McChord C-17 Globemaster III as part of a Simulated Penetration Air Defense Exercise scenario over central Washington in February. The C-17 is playing the role of a hijacked airliner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- While the primary mission of the 62nd Airlift Wing remains delivering global airlift for America, through a partnership with the Western Air Defense Sector the wing also plays an important role in evaluating America's air defense readiness. 

Since 1998, the 62nd AW has been working with WADS to provide a live aircraft for the Simulated Penetration Air Defense Exercise program, said SPADE exercise planner Gary Pettit, WADS. 

Through steady communication with the 62nd Operations Support Squadron's long range plans office, WADS is able to use 62nd AW C-17 Globemaster IIIs that are on local training missions and incorporate them into scenarios involving fighters launched from any base west of the Mississippi River, Mr. Pettit said. 

Having a live mission to intercept during the simulation provides an element to the scenario that is invaluable, he said. 

The wing's involvement usually entails flying from international waters over the Pacific Ocean and then meeting up with the fighters about 20 miles off the U.S. coast on the intercept as part of the exercise, said long range planner Gus Bush, 62nd OSS. 

Then the fighters escort the C-17 to a runway in central Washington until it touches down, completing the exercise, he said. 

As long as the intercept simulation doesn't interfere with any of the training missions, most crews are happy to help out, he said. 

"They know about the intercept well before they take off," Mr. Bush said.

 "The squadrons usually are notified of it at least a month in advance." 

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, McChord C-17s were used in the exercise to portray enemy aircraft trying to sneak into the country, but now their roles are usually hijacked airliners, Mr. Pettit said. 

"The program works out well for both sides," Mr. Bush said. 

The benefit the exercise provides for C-17 crews is the chance to practice flying in formation with dissimilar aircraft and practice communicating hand signals with the pilots in the fighters, depending on the scenario, Mr. Bush said. 

The exercise also provides a good forum for learning for C-17, Federal Aviation Agency and WADS crews when it comes to communication, Mr. Pettit said. 

"The SPADE program is a platform to evaluate that whole process, and the 62nd AW has been a valuable part of that," he said.

 "On their training missions, they're working on the leading edge of homeland defense."