POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, NC (SSG Dawkins) – After receiving the Army’s first and only C-27J aircraft and attending months of training, the United States Army Special Operations Command Flight Company (UFC) finally has its first trained pilots and loadmasters.
Four pilots and four loadmasters completed the training, which was taught by contractors with previous C-27J experience. Those same contractors had been flying the UFC C-27J missions since the aircraft began arriving at Pope Army Airfield in October.
“The overall training is normally three months, however, this first class will go almost four,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 James A. Lindsay, a UFC standardization officer. “At the end of the three months, the contractors will train and certify us as instructor pilots and functional check pilots. The additional training will allow us to train others; showing us things to lookout for as instructor pilots when we are setting up simulator emergencies, or flying with new guys, so we don’t damage aircraft or hurt ourselves.”
The training included a classroom portion, flight evaluations and in-flight emergency simulations. Though all the training was important, Lindsay said they knew they would need to learn a lot more than what was taught in the four months of class.
“We spent months prepping before the course began,” he explained. “We did extra work and studied nightly between classes and flight training periods so that we are able to immediately produce instructor pilots right after the course is complete. We are doing as much as we can to be mission ready pilots-in-command and instructor pilots.”
Initially, the UFC is planning on training approximately 20 pilots Lindsay said. Between Pope Army Airfield and the Military Freefall School in Yuma, Ariz., they will have seven C27J aircraft. Ben A. Pasquine, a UFC fixed wing standardization officer and former UFC commander, said he hopes they will have the pilots on station and fully trained in the next 12 months.
Pasquine, who has more than 30-years of aviation experience, said he feels the toughest thing to learn about the new aircraft is the automation. He went on to say that the C-27J has more automation than any Army or commercial aircraft he has ever flown.
With the new aircraft, the UFC also had to nominate Soldiers for C-27J loadmaster training. The first class, which was also four months, showed the UFC noncommissioned officers (NCO) just how important their new job would be.
Master Sgt. Todd A. Lewis, the United States Army Special Operations Aviation Command’s (USASOAC) standardization noncommissioned officer, has over fifteen years of aviation experience, and is one of the first NCOs to be fully qualified as a loadmaster.
According to Lewis, the UFC is the only active duty Army unit that has aircraft loadmasters. For the first class, the company trained and qualified four loadmasters. Now, much like the pilots, those loadmasters will be responsible for training other Soldiers within the UFC.
“Upon completion of this class, we will immediately start training other UFC Soldiers to become C-27J qualified loadmasters,” Lewis said.
With a lot of training still to come, the UFC Soldiers know this aircraft is much different and more complex than any other Army airframe they have previously trained on.
“With its 90-foot wingspan and 9500 horsepower engines, it’s the largest plane the Army has,” said Lindsay. “It really raises the bar on the level of responsibility we give our enlisted Soldiers. With pretty much every other Army airframe, the pilots preflight the aircraft. With the C-27, it’s such a complex aircraft, while the pilots are doing their preflight planning, the loadmasters are the guys going out and preflighting (sic) the entire plane, inside and out. They’re even required to go into the cockpit. They load the inertial navigation system, do flight control checks and check all the other systems in the cockpit and throughout the aircraft.”