Combat airdrop missions offer challenges, rewards

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
As McChord's 4th Airlift Squadron, deployed as the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, prepared for a recent combat airdrop the day after Thanksgiving, Capt. Sarah Young, 4th AS, took a moment to commemorate the event.

Before the pallets were loaded onto the C-17 Globemaster III, Captain Young wrote some goodwill messages on the labeling tape of the pallets wishing the troops on the ground well.

"I put lots of smiley faces on it," she said with a laugh.

Though the troops on the ground were probably appreciative of Captain Young's gesture of goodwill, the process of planning and executing a combat airdrop is more involved than wishing people well.

One of the biggest challenges of a combat airdrop is coordinating everything with each crew's Army counterparts on the ground and Air Force counterparts in the sky, said Capt. John Pantages, 7th Airlift Squadron.

Scheduling an in-flight refueling with a tanker, making sure the coordinates of the airdrop are correct and the crew on the ground is set to receive the goods are all factors that contribute to exact combat airdrop scheduling.

"Everyone needs to be on the same sheet of music," said Capt. Dan Bishop, 10th Airlift Squadron airdrop instructor.

Crews must also make sure there is an open line of communication within the aircraft so that they can make sure the correct supplies are dropped at the right time so those on the ground get the right supplies, Captain Bishop said.

"On a flight with several airdrops, you're very busy internally," he said. "You're constantly switching from communication between one drop zone to the next."

Both low and high altitude drops present different challenges, Captain Bishop said.

When dropping above 10,000 feet, aircrews must be in total unison lest someone lose oxygen and pass out or suffer from decompression sickness, he said.

The low altitude drops open crews up for possible ground attacks.

Despite being one of the most challenging missions that a C-17 pilot can fly, according to Captain Bishop, combat airdrop missions are extremely worthwhile missions to take part in.

"It made my whole five weeks of airdrop school worth it," Captain Young said.

"The fact that we were dropping stuff that people really needed gave our whole mission more urgency."

Another crew member on the 4th AS's recent drop, 1st Lt. Jon Dark, 817th EAS, also got an up-close look at the rewarding side of combat airdrop.

As his C-17 banked left after an airdrop in Afghanistan, he said he saw a group of Humvees "tearing across the desert to retrieve the stuff" when it touched down at the drop zone.

"It was a real rush to see those pallets touch down," Lieutenant Dark said. "To know that we were successful and the pallets were on target was a good feeling."