For the first time in history, a U.S. cargo aircraft transported a U.S. fighter jet back to the United States after sustaining damage to its fuselage.
The 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron aerial port flight assisted the C-5 Galaxy's loadmaster crew in successfully loading an F/A-18 Super Hornet into the Galaxy's cargo bay Aug. 18, 2011, on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
In March, while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, the Hornet experienced malfunctions which caused it to divert and land at Kandahar Airfield. Upon landing, the aircraft experienced hot brakes and upon stopping, both brakes were engulfed in flames. The Kandahar, Fire and Rescue extinguished the fire, but the right fuselage was severely damaged.
Charles Miller, the F/A-18 deputy program manager, and a team of four Defense Department civilians have been preparing to recover the aircraft in order to bring it back to the U.S. to Fleet Readiness Center Southwest to perform the necessary repairs since July. The preparation included coordinating with senior leadership at the Navy's Commander of Naval Air Forces and the Air Force's Air Mobility Command in order to obtain the required certification to transport the aircraft back on a C-5 to Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, Calif.
"Typically, an aircraft would be flown back to the states if the damage was minor," said Miller. "But this F/A-18 sustained substantial damage which our engineering support team determined to be critical and unflyable."
"Having it transported back to the States and repaired will most likely cost a third of what a new aircraft would cost," said Miller. The production cost of a new Super Hornet is about $65 million.
Since this transportation task had never been attempted before, the plan to load the aircraft was not taken lightly.
"Being that this is the first time we've ever done anything like this, the coordination and extensive planning to get the aircraft loaded and transported has been ongoing since March," said Miller.
Once the plan was approved, the C-5 aircrew was eager for the opportunity.
"We're willing to help any of our sister services who need it," said Air Force Maj. Steven Hertenstein, the pilot of the C-5 who is deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. "Carrying cargo is what this aircraft was designed to do, and we're glad to be a part this."
Even before the crews began the upload, Hertenstein was confident that it would be successful.
"These loadmasters will get it done. They have the skills to take different loads and find a way to get it on the aircraft safely and effectively," said Hertenstein.
The load crew and aerial port weren't the only units to contribute to this successful load.
"Units from all across the base came together to make this happen," said Miller. The Air Force's RED HORSE unit built the tiered wooden ramps called "shoring" which were used to get the fuselage up the C-5's ramp. The Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 40, Detachment Bravo, assisted Miller and his team with the necessary support equipment in order to disassemble of the aircraft. The NATO Base Operations Command provided hangar space in the Kilo Ramp which allowed them to perform the task out of the elements.
"I want to thank all the units that contributed to this mission," said Miller. "We couldn't have done this without them."
by Senior Airman David Carbajal
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
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