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Councils pave way to solve global mobility challenges

A C-17 Globemaster III from the 21st Airlift Squadron lands at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The 21st and 22nd Airlift squadrons celebrated their 75th anniversaries April 3. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ken Wright)

A C-17 Globemaster III from the 21st Airlift Squadron lands at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., May 8, 2014. In 2016, the 21st AS flew the most hours of any C-17 squadron in the Air Force, accumulating nearly 8,600 flying hours supporting missions on six continents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ken Wright)

A KC-10 Extender lands at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during the Wings Over Solano Air Show May 6, 2017. The two-day event featured performances by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team, flyovers and static displays. (U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)

A KC-10 Extender lands at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., during the Wings Over Solano Air Show May 6, 2017. The Travis KC-10 fleet flew 1,953 sorties from the Travis flightline, offloading more than 170 million pounds of fuel in 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Heide Couch)

A C-5M Super Galaxy takes off at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 13, 2017. Aircrews fly the new M-model around the world supporting Department of Defense missions with improved capabilities such as fuel efficiency, reduced noise and greater payloads. The Travis AFB mission provides Rapid Global Mobility quickly and decisively to locations all around the globe. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Heide Couch)

A C-5M Super Galaxy takes off at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 13, 2017. Aircrews fly the new M-model around the world supporting Department of Defense missions with improved capabilities such as fuel efficiency, reduced noise and greater payloads. (U.S. Air Force photo/Heide Couch)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Squadron, group and wing leaders at Travis Air Force Base, California, meet regularly to discuss ways to improve mission capability and solve problems for each of the base’s aircraft, the KC-10 Extender, C-5M Super Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III.

The groups combine to form the Travis arm of Air Mobility Command’s Mobility Air Forces Council. The mission of the council is to identify trends, address issues and share solutions for AMC aircraft. 

According to the AMC MAF Councils Charter, the ultimate goal of the council is to ensure open communication between all Total Force MAF wing commanders and MAF Council participants with a focus on mission improvement. There are six MAF Councils across AMC, one for each airframe. The chair of each Council changes annually to ensure accurate representation of the unique mission perspectives from each base.

At Travis, home to the largest air mobility wing in the Air Force, MAF Councils meet every six months to discuss issues and potential solutions. Those discussions are held with several organizations including active-duty and Reserve commanders at the squadron, group and wing level at home-station and deployed locations, as well as representatives at AMC. 

Maj. Mara Lapidus, 22nd Airlift Squadron operations officer, serves on the C-5 MAF Council.

“The intent of the MAF council is to provide a forum for all of our C-5 partners to discuss various issues affecting the community,” she said.  “It is important because it provides a structured method for highlighting issues, and engaging simultaneously with our squadron counterparts and leadership at the wing and staff level.”

“Among the many initiatives discussed at the MAF council, most of them aim to achieve a more mission capable airplane and crew force,” she said. “That can mean bringing attention to technology that exists that could increase pilot situational awareness, discussing crewmember retention, or evaluating ways we can more efficiently train our new loadmasters. Regardless of the topic, the goal is always improvement.”

The C-5 is the largest aircraft in the Air Force inventory and has supported operations in nearly every corner of the globe. The aircraft was used to help evacuate Americans from the Philippines after Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991 and has delivered thousands of tons of cargo in support of Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel. 

The flying machine is essential to mission success, not just for Travis, but for the Air Force, said Lapidus.

“The aircraft is incredibly important, especially when we think of how Travis, AMC and ultimately our Air Force, projects American power...anytime, anywhere,” she said. “Several of our discussions have addressed crew member manning. It takes approximately two years to develop a C-5 flight engineer, so retention is a major focus point in our community. Our council was able to highlight recent engineer attrition as a potential critical manning problem, and as a result, we have had a forum for coordination with our counterparts at Dover AFB, Delaware to ensure active-duty flight engineer manning is sustained.”

Lt. Col. Chad Harris, 21st Airlift Squadron director of operations, addressed a similar issue with the C-17 community.

“Many of our pilots will leave to train the next generation of pilots or fill fighter positions,” said Harris. “This often leads to less-experienced pilots in the squadron to perform the mission and train the next generation in the 21st AS. You can only do that for so long.”

Harris said he shared this manning concern with AMC’s MAF Council in the winter of 2016 and things have improved.

The 21st AS also developed a tracking system to monitor pilot training, qualifications and performance. This system helps the unit identify officers who are good candidates for numerous assignments while ensuring the squadron can perform its mission.

“The squadron is the root in the war machine, it’s where innovation happens, ideas come from and where most of the work is done,” said Harris.  “I get to walk around the squadron every day and talk to our people, hear their concerns and raise those concerns, if necessary, to the Air Force level.”

In 2016, the 21st AS flew the most hours of any C-17 squadron in the Air Force, accumulating nearly 8,600 flying hours supporting missions on six continents. Ensuring that mission continues is vital, said Harris.

“We have a specific mission and we need to make sure we can do that mission today, but my focus is also on ensuring we can do that mission three to five years from now,” he said. 

Maj. Ryan McAdams, chief of the 60th Air Mobility Wing Command Post, as well as a KC-10 pilot and a member of the KC-10 MAF Council, said flight engineer manning is just one issue that has seen immense improvement as a result of the councils.

“For several years KC-10 flight engineer manning was between 80 and 85 percent,” said McAdams. “Now, active-duty manning is averaging 95 percent and projected to improve.”

The Travis KC-10 fleet flew 1,953 sorties from the Travis flightline, offloading more than 170 million pounds of fuel in 2016. With such a large workload, training is an important topic and one that’s often discussed in MAF Council meetings, said McAdams.

Ensuring aircrew members are fully trained, qualified and proficient is vital to mission success, he added, while providing an example of what could happen if KC-10 boom operators weren’t proficient in their qualifications.

“If our boom operators aren’t proficient and they load an aircraft improperly, the cargo could move inflight causing a shift in the center of gravity,” he said. “That could cause an aircraft to crash or someone to get seriously injured or killed.” 

“With the MAF Council we have an effect on a weapons system level,” said McAdams. “I get to affect change for the entire KC-10 enterprise. When we make decisions, we’re affecting many things.”

And decisions are not an accident, said Harris.

“When we decide how many maintainers we need, how many flight engineers we need or anything, nothing is an accident, it’s all thought out and in some cases, several years in advance,” he said. “The MAF Councils serve as the strategic direction we need to go and every decision made is directly related to that strategic direction.”