DOVER AIR BASE, Del. – Dark night sky covered the airspace over Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Through the lenses of his night vision goggles, Captain Joshua Jordan and 1st Lt. Nathan Creech, both pilots from 3 Airlift Squadron, prepared to land their C-17 Globemaster III, call sign Reach 806, for its fourth mission in support of Operation Allies Refuge.
Typically, by the fourth iteration, there is a sense of procedural normalcy. This time, however, normalcy had vanished as dark as the sky above. The airfield was darker than usual, and nearby city lights blurred vision through the crew’s NVGs. Jordan and Creech remained calm, focused and motivated to complete the mission, knowing that those awaiting their arrival had risked everything for a chance to live a new life.
Numerous crews from 3rd AS at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, contributed to the success of the OAR. However, the crew of the Reach 806 faced an additional challenge, being forced to land at HKIA using improvised landing zone lighting in order to evacuate thousands of Afghans.
Several hours before the landing of this fourth mission, Major Matthew Steele, 3rd AS instructor pilot, set the tone for Reach 806 which sparked motivation and a renewed sense of service among his peers.
âEn route that night our crew discussed the magnitude of what we were being asked to do,â said Steele. âWe discussed the two most important days of our career: the day you raise your hand and volunteer to serve, and the day you find out why. Tonight is going to be one of those whys when you look back on your career.
Shortly after take-off, other C-17 crews bound for HKIA reported increasingly unfavorable landing conditions as the normal aerodrome lighting was turned off.
âOnce we took off on our departure from Al Udeid, we heard other C-17s being [denied launch] due to the deteriorating lighting conditions in Kabul, “said Jordan, who served as an aircraft commander on Reach 806.” So with normal lighting out of the picture, it clouded the success of Reach Mission 806. Major Matthew Steele and I had to lean forward.
They had to find a way to land safely, as so many people were relying on them, and the emotions would be even stronger once the plane became visible to those at HKIA.
âWe knew the people on the ground in Kabul had left their homes and their lives in Afghanistan to be rescued,â Jordan said.
Steele, with over a few thousand hours of experience, was Jordan’s third pilot and guided him through the deteriorating situation.
âWe had only been in the air for about 20 minutes when we got the call and decided to stay put while we made a plan,â Steele said. âWe realized we were about three hours from HKIA with an extra hour of fuel. We figured there were four hours to come up with a plan.
According to Steele, attack controllers at the HKIA Joint Terminal were working on setting up alternate landing zone lighting that would require approval from Theater Direct Delivery at the Tanker Airlift Control Center, the agency in charge of operations at HKIA.
âCaptain Jordan worked with TDD and our crew decided to continue at HKIA while TDD worked on a plan that would require approval,â said Steele. “About an hour before [reaching] HKIA, TDD got approval for lighting, but only if we agreed.
After the JTAC reduced an alternate landing zone procedure from 120 days to just two hours, Reach 806 descended to HKIA.
âI could barely see the landing zone until we were on approach. The brightness of the surrounding city made it particularly difficult to see the airfield, âsaid Creech. âI had trouble seeing the alternative lighting from my position in the cockpit. [We were] 500 feet above the ground before being confident in seeing the landing zone.
According to Steele, C-17 pilots are required to provide a 1,000-foot, 500-foot call with a concise description of the stable and unstable characteristics to the pilot flying so that corrections can be made before reaching a critical altitude of 300 feet.
“At 300 feet, if the airplane is not stabilized in the correct landing configuration, runway in sight and capable of landing safely, the crew is required to [make a second attempt at landing],” he said.
The aircrew relied on their training as they approached the landing zone.
âAll the training we do on local Dover rides, drills and simulators cannot prepare us for the real-world stressors we face in uncharted territories like SRO,â Jordan said. âBut it allows us to trust our formation and the other pilots and loaders of our squadron even though we had never done a mission with them before. I knew I could count on my crew, they could count on me and TACC could count on us.
Finally, Reach 806 was down at HKIA.
The crew of the Reach 806 had a plan in place and were successful in moving the passengers in their first step on the path to new life.
Reflecting on the performance of the C-17s, Jordan praised those responsible for maintenance for providing aircraft capable of accomplishing the mission.
âThe OAR would not have been possible without the Airmen from the 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, working tirelessly to keep the Dover C-17s ready for America’s airlift missions,â Jordan said.
The crew returned home on September 1, having completed 13 sorties and logged over 55 flight hours carrying 2,242 passengers and 564,509 pounds of cargo to various locations. During the life of the OAR, the crew of 3rd AS flew a total of 68 missions, evacuating 7,700 people and over 3.5 million pounds of cargo and passengers as the squadron burned to ever its mark on the largest non-combatant evacuation airlift in history.
|Date posted:||04/11/2021 16:08|
|Site:||AIR BASE OF DOVER, DE, UNITED STATES|
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