Travis AFB in California, is home to the 22nd Airlift Squadron which is part of the 60th Air Mobility Wing and is a vital part of the United States strategic airlift mission. It has supported many operations over the last two decades including allied forces in Afghanistan in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. I travelled to Travis AFB to report on the squadron.
The 22nd Airlift Squadron consists of over 230 personnel of those there are a total of 29 aircrews and support personnel. There was only a short overlap during which Travis was flying both the C-5B and the C-5M, as the first flight of the M-model at Travis was in May of 2014, while the last flight of a legacy C-5 occurred in November of 2014, however the 22nd AS currently has 17 C-5s assigned to the base and are waiting for just one more airframe to return from the depot, at which point they will have completed the transition with a total of 18 C-5M aircraft on strength.
The 22nd Airlift Squadron’s mission statement is to “Provide World-Class Global Strategic Airlift—Safe & On-Time”. As the Department of Defense’s largest and only purely-strategic airlifter, the 22nd flying the C-5 are able to transport more equipment, supplies, and personnel farther than any other aircraft that the United States has at its disposal, and this capability has been largely expanded due to the advent of the C-5M. Captain Matt Wangler is a C-5M Pilot and explained a little more on the 22nd’s mission. “With Aerial Refuelling, we can reach any part of the globe and are capable of operating in austere locations. The reason we can provide such a remarkable capacity safely and on-time is due to the culture that we have in our squadron. Each and every one of the crew is a dedicated professional, and we all understand the key roles that we each play in executing our mission well. The majority of C-5M formal training takes place at the Formal Training Unit (FTU) at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Kelly Field in Texas. However, the 22nd trains pilots in tactics, aircraft commander upgrades, evaluators upgrades and occasionally performs in unit upgrades for air refuelling and instructor pilots. We are also always training to stay proficient at our jobs as aviators and that takes lots of practice local flying,” explained Captain Loftus. “On average between 15-20 new pilots come to the squadron each year but we probably have about 40-50 training upgrades that we accomplish each year. Students are selected to fly the C-5 out of Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) based on their performance and their dream sheets. We also receive pilots from C-21s and First Assignment Instructor Pilots from the UPT.” Explained Capt Loftus. Captain Matt Wangler is a pilot assigned to the 22nd airlift squadron and has been flying the C-5M for two and a half years. “I attended Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, TX from 2011-2012. After a hiatus from flying I was selected to fly the C-5M in the spring of 2015 and have been flying it operationally since December of that year. The C-5M is an awe-inspiring airplane. The eyes of those unfamiliar with it are often glued to the sky when they see it fly overhead, as they ask themselves how something so large is able to stay in the air. Remarkably, the aircraft itself handles similarly to any other transport aircraft. From the pilot’s seat, it’s often very easy to forget that you have almost 250 feet of airplane behind you.”
The way student pilots are selected to fly the C-5 is primarily based on the “needs of the Air Force”. Each different type of airplane the Air Force has undergoes a constant flux of pilots coming into and leaving that particular community. Each newly-winged pilot out of UPT (undergraduate pilot training) is given a list of aircraft to choose from and is able to rank his or her preferences. The C-5 community is quite small in comparison to other communities in the Air Force so the opportunities to fly it don’t come around as often as many other airframes. However, it is often the top choice for new graduates of pilot training. The majority of C-5 training is carried out at the C-5 Formal Training Unit (FTU) which is located at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. This is where pilots newly-assigned to the C-5 go to receive their initial qualification training, however, the 22nd Airlift Squadron typically has between 8-10 co-pilots going through Aircraft Commander Training at one time. “After roughly three and a half months at Lackland, pilots arrive at either Dover Air Force Base or here at Travis, where they continue training to become certified to fly within their specific squadron. Once at his or her duty-station, the process to become mission-qualified typically takes between four to eight weeks, depending on the flying schedule and what levels of additional training are required for that pilot. Even after attaining mission-ready status, however, pilots still undergo ongoing training courses to obtain additional qualifications in areas such as Tactics and Aerial Refuelling. In addition, we all have our own currency items to accomplish at certain time intervals throughout the year, to ensure that we don’t lose proficiency in any of a list of specific flying manoeuvres. It takes about 1.5 to 2 years before they are fully qualified to command the C-5.” Explained Capt Wangler.
FLYING THE ‘M’
Captain Joel Loftus is a C-5M pilot and was part of the third class to go through the M-model Formal Training Unit (FTU) and has been flying the C-5M for the last five years. “I was stationed at Dover AFB in Delaware for four years flying the C-5M and arrived at Travis AFB in November 2016 where I joined the 22nd Airlift Squadron flying their C-5Ms. It is an incredible aircraft to fly. It may be huge but it’s fairly easy to fly and is quite responsive. The only time that it can challenge us is when we are taxiing on the ground - our 221 foot wing span makes it incredibly difficult to fit into certain spaces so we have to be very careful when taxiing to ensure we do not hit anything around us.” The M-model has provided a significant improvement to the fleet in terms of maintenance reliability compared with the legacy C-5A and B models. The new engines are more powerful and much more reliable than the previous engines. “The biggest issue we have in the C-5 community is part availability. Because the C-5 is so big and requires so many parts , many places we fly to do not have spares if we have an issue. Often times, we are delayed because we are waiting for a part to be shipped from Dover or Travis because they are the only bases that source spare parts. Overall though, the M-model has significantly increased the reliability of the Galaxy.” Explained Capt Loftus. Captain Wangler explains in detail the differences between the Legacy Galaxy and the Super Galaxy. “I myself am colloquially known as an “M-baby”, meaning that I’ve never actually flown the legacy A- or B-models. The airframes themselves are the same, however. What modernizes the A/B-model “Galaxy” airframe to the M-model “Super Galaxy” status is essentially the combination two updates: the Avionics Modernization Program (AMP) and the Reliability Enhancement and Re-Engining Program (RERP). AMP results in a modern cockpit layout, with flat-panel displays and enhanced navigation, communication, and safety equipment. Meanwhile, RERP gives the airplane more powerful engines, with a 22% increase in thrust compared to the legacy engines, and results in a 58% greater climb rate to initial cruise altitude. In addition, these new, more efficient engines result in the Super Galaxy having a range of 5,250 nautical miles with a 120,000 pound payload, as compared to 4,350 nautical miles with the legacy models. All of this combined means that the C-5M gets its troops and cargo where they are needed faster, more affordably, and more reliably.”
“Each training flight starts with the crew being “alerted” for the mission. From then the next four hours are spent traveling to the squadron, accomplishing a mission briefing with the entire crew, doing mission planning, and pre-flighting the aircraft prior to takeoff. Typical sortie duration is an additional four hours, during which we often meet up with a tanker aircraft to sharpen our aerial refuelling skills and/or fly various instrument and visual procedures either at Travis or one of several surrounding airfields, depending on the currency needs of the pilots or the type of upgrade training that they are in. After landing we accomplish post-flight duties to include debriefing and paperwork.” Capt Wangler.
With the arrival of the C-5M, the C-5 is expected to keep flying well into the 2040s. While having just received a momentous upgrade with its new avionics and engines, there are also several smaller upgrades that are currently in progress or planned for the future. The most notable of these is the Core Mission Computer/Color Weather Radar (CMC/CWR) Program. These updates will result in an increase in speed and memory for the aircraft’s computing systems. In addition, the C-5s are receiving a new multi scan color-weather radar, which will improve weather detection—including turbulence and windshear and decrease pilot workload - this upgrade has already started and is expected to be completed fleet-wide by 2021.
MAINTAINING THE ‘SUPER GALAXY’
Maintaining such a big aircraft such as the C-5 takes a large amount of skill. Maintenance on the old legacy C-5s took a bit more mechanical aptitude where troubleshooting was an art form and took more of an understanding of the aircraft and system knowledge. With the the new M model Super Galaxy, modifications troubleshooting has become more user friendly where the new computer systems can break down and run diagnostics and virtually pinpoint mechanical and software malfunctions without spending ample time in the books and chasing information through wiring diagrams. SSgt David Rodgers in a flying crew chief instructor at the 60th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron (AMXS) where he teaches mechanics how to perform and orchestrate maintenance at austere locations and non-repair capable facilities. “I started here at Travis AFB back in June 2007 as a crew chief before moving onto our support flight in 2008 to maintain and ensure we mechanics had the proper test equipment and tools to achieve mission success. Returning back to the flightline in 2010 I knew I wanted to be one of the best mechanics and applied my system knowledge to achieve primary flying crew chief in 2011 where I have been travelling with the 22nd Airlift Squadron ever since.” As with any new software and propulsion systems on more matured hardware there is always a trial period and time needed to work out the bugs. SSgt Rodgers explained, “We have since worked with our Lockheed engineers hand in hand to get new software updates that allows for missions to continue and further treat malfunctions with more of a precise approach decreasing downtime due to maintenance issues and allow more missions to stay on track with each mission. The new CF6 propulsion system has taken this aircraft to whole new heights, allowing for longer direct flights and better fuel economy reducing the cost and need for air to air fuel transfers.”