JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas —
As the hurricane season comes to a close, the work doesn’t stop for the Air Force Reserve Command’s 433rd Airlift Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
So far this year, the airlift wing’s fleet of C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft have answered the call to assist with 19 humanitarian missions as a result of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.
From the moment a Combat Readiness Flight team is assembled, an intricate game plan is executed to assure the area and the people impacted by the hurricanes get the help they need as quickly as possible.
Before any assistance can even get to the affected area, there has to be a place for the $270 million C-5M aircraft and personnel to land.
“Typically, when there’s no established airport presence, we’ll go in and set up the airfield,” said Lt. Col. Robert Acosta, 433rd AW Contingency Response Flight commander.
His diverse team includes aircrew, airfield managers, as well as command and control personnel making them completely self-reliant.
“We go into mission execution with delivering relief supplies or humanitarian assistance or disaster response or wartime mission as well,” Acosta said.
Acosta’s team of 20 arrive at dark airfields no longer having infrastructure. They take pride in the mission and the hard work everyone puts in.
“It’s a tremendous satisfaction at the end of every day to see how many planes have come through, how much cargo has been delivered,” he added.
The complexity of each mission and the fluidity of them means the C-5M has to be ready at a moment’s notice. That involves a strict maintenance schedule to insure the safety of the crew, the plane and the accomplishment of the mission.
Inspections on the C-5M is only good for 72 hours. Chief Master Sgt. Pedro A. Saenz, 433rd AW aircraft maintenance squadron chief, said the fleet must be ready hours before they leave the airfield — three hours prior to a mission.
“They’ll come in at four o’clock in the morning, do the inspection, get the plane ready for a 10 o’clock mission in the morning,” Saenz said.
The most important inspection on the C-5M is Basic Post Flight. With these inspections, visual examinations and manual checks are performed to determine the condition of the aircraft.
There is also a Quick Turn inspection that occurs when a C-5M parks with the engines running and the air crews are swapped. As long as there are no discrepancies reported during the original mission, the aircraft can take off.
During a QT inspection, the C-5M is refueled. It uses about 120,000 pounds of fuel on a local mission, but can handle 240,000 pounds for longer missions.
“With the M model, this plane can fly from here to Germany non-stop,” Saenz said. “Puerto Rico, we were going back and forth.”
Saenz’ maintenance teams sometimes put in 14- or 15-hour days.
“You don’t go to bed until you land that plane on the ground, do your inspection, look it over and make sure nothing is broken,” Saenz said.
The most important routine maintenance the crew performs is changing the C-5M’s tires. The number of times the tires are changed can be between 30 and 40, depending on the number of "touch and go" the aircraft makes.
The C-5M is used to transport cargo and personnel, but it also has the capacity to hold six Greyhound buses, as well as an eight-lane bowling alley. It weighs 1.3 tons and experts say it could stay in service for at least 20 years.
It has been quiet the last couple of years until hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria came along this year, according to Col. Thomas K. “TK” Smith Jr., 433rd AW commander. The wing was engaged with hurricanes Katrina and Rita about ten years ago. They have also run missions when a tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004.
“This wing flew one plane and two aircrews to Japan and took turns flying the planes to Sri Lanka and back,” Smith said. “I think the C-5 is the best mission in the Air Force.”
The Air Force currently has 54 C-5M aircrafts. Joint Base San Antonio has eight, with two on loan right now as JBSA C-5M aircrafts undergo intense maintenance which can take up to a year.
Smith says the aircraft have been the all over the world to provide cargo transport.
“We get to go out there and fly worldwide. We see other countries and we recognize and realize how good we have it here in the United States.”