Yakima landing boosts Rainier Wing readiness

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hull
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

For the first time, 446th Airlift Wing Reserve Citizen Airmen landed at the newly restored Selah airstrip at the Yakima Training Center and accomplished readiness training May 1.

While engaged in an exercise at the training center, Army officials called upon two C-17 Globemaster III units to transport four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The helicopters were needed as part of the Joint Warfighting Assessment 19, a joint multinational military exercise conducted at YTC April 8 to May 11.

Through joint collaborations between I Corps units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the 446th Airlift Wing and the 62nd Airlift Wing, Airmen and Soldiers worked side-by-side to deliver the Black Hawks.

“This was the first time that an aircrew from 446th Airlift Wing had been to this landing zone,” said Capt. Jason Taylor, 313th Airlift Squadron assistant director of operations. “It’s only 90 feet wide and barely long enough for us to land with this type of cargo loaded on the aircraft. Add to the fact that it was in a simulated live-fire zone – and a busy airspace of helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles – it took a lot of effort to coordinate all the logistics for a mission like this.”

Landing somewhere new can be very exciting, Taylor said. He said some of the hills in the area extend upward to 5,000 feet. But aircrews were flying at about 3,200 feet when they entered the training range prior to landing.

“In a contested environment, the hills would have shielded us from ground-based radars placed opposite of those hills just as we would plan for in real-world scenarios,” Taylor said. “The Yakima Training Center Range is also located within a restricted area. This gives the Army control of the airspace above the range to support everything from artillery to UAVs operating without endangering nonparticipating aircraft.”

To ensure the safety of all the participants on the range, a lot of coordination went into creating a small space for the C-17 crew to fly in and out of, according to Taylor. This allowed for continued operations elsewhere on the range similar to hostile or austere environments.

“As we were coming in low, I could see Strykers posted on the hills and the Soldiers on the ground doing their stuff,” Taylor said. “The runway was painted the week before, which made it easier to identify, and I decided to fly over so I could clearly see if there were vehicles on the runway prior to maneuvering to land.”

In kinetic environments, such as combat and mass-training exercises, it can be difficult to control the airfield proficiently and is usually a hive of activity, Taylor said.

“We identified two vehicles on the runway just prior to landing and coordinated for the runway to be cleared immediately,” Taylor said. “The landing itself was uneventful, and the loadmasters and Soldiers were able to unload the helicopters quite efficiently. And since moving helicopters is something we don’t do every day, they were able to get in some great training as well.”

Prior to the flight, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Bertsch, 728th Airlift Squadron standardization and evaluation loadmaster, identified several loadmasters who were in need of the training.

“Anytime we have a mission come down, I check to see who needs training,” Bertsch said. “I saw that two loadmasters needed recurring training on moving helicopters. We also have a new Airman from technical training that had never seen this before.”

After the crew was selected, they worked with Soldiers at JBLM’s Gray Army Airfield to configure the C-17, ensure the right equipment was on-hand and loaded the helicopters.

“Anytime you load oversized cargo, such as Black Hawks, onto the C-17 it takes planning and coordination,” Bertsch said. “Also, being a Reserve unit, it’s not every day that we get to move helicopters. Because we were training, and working with some Soldiers who were new to this as well, it took us a little longer than expected to load the aircraft. Once we landed at Yakima Training Center, everyone knew what they were doing and there were absolutely no issues unloading the helicopters.”

As the aircraft commander for the Reserve Citizen Airmen crew, Taylor said it was excellent training by all involved and an outstanding example of teamwork.

“Flying into new locations with very limited resources and tight tolerances is what separates military aviation from a typical commercial carrier,” Taylor said. “Then the level of training that Air Force pilots receive truly separates us from most other militaries. It is very rewarding to draw on that training and execute a mission like this.

“To execute the same scenario as our active-duty counterpart and achieve the same results speaks to the readiness of the 446th.”