April 7, 2014 (by TSgt. Ryan Labadens) - Sixteen aircraft from the 403rd Wing took to the skies over the Mississippi Gulf Coast region April 5 in Operation Surge Capacity, a large-ship formation training exercise.
The 403rd Wing's C-130J and WC-130J aircraft fly in formation during a Operation Surge Capacity on April, 5, 2014. Aircraft from the 815th and 345th AS's and 53rd WRS participated in Operation Surge Capacity, a large scale training exercise designed to test the 403rd Wing's ability to launch and recover a large formation of aircraft and to execute airdrops. [USAF photo by SrA Nicholas Monteleone]
The exercise was designed to test multiple capabilities of the wing, such as coordination between various squadrons, the Federal Aviation Administration, Stennis International Airport, and active-duty and Reserve components here in supporting the mission. It also tested the abilities of 815th and 345th Airlift Squadron aircrews to plan and fly in a large formation, and to execute airdrops at two separate locations: Keesler AFB and Stennis.
The operation included C-130J aircraft from the reserve 815th and active-associate 345th AS, and WC-130J aircraft from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, all of which fall under the command of the 403rd Wing.
The exercise was a huge undertaking, and a first of this size for the 403rd, said Maj. William Miller, 815th AS chief of tactics and the mission commander for the operation. Never in the history of the wing had a 16-ship operation been launched and recovered.
Miller highlighted the advantages of performing an operation of this magnitude.
"The benefit of doing a large formation of this nature is twofold. One, you get all of the maintainers involved to do what they need to do to get all of these planes generated and ready to fly. And two, it provides experience for all of our aircrews to project combat power in a large formation, which is in the Army's doctrine for us (the Air Force) to be able to produce and execute," said Miller.
The planes airdropped 15-pound sandbags, which were used to simulate equipment, over the runway at Keesler AFB, and then performed a simulated airdrop of paratroopers over the runway at Stennis International Airport in Long Beach, Miss. The U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group from, Duke Field, Fla., was originally supposed to participate in the paratrooper airdrop but had to cancel due to the forecasted inclement weather.
First Lieutenant Jonathan Recor, 345th AS tactics officer and mission planning cell chief for the operation, praised the efforts of all those involved in getting the operation off the ground, especially the 403rd Maintenance Group.
"Maintenance - first off - was awesome. The fact that we were able to generate 16 out of 16 airplanes, to launch 100 percent of our available aircraft, is not only unheard of, but amazing. To have them all take off on time, with no issues, is a testament to what our people can do," said Recor.
According to Col. Frank Amodeo, 403rd Wing commander, the operation was a resounding success.
"I don't think it could have gone any better. What we were able to do today was not only a 403rd Wing effort, but a total Keesler base effort," said Amodeo, highlighting the coordination between the active-duty 81st Training Wing and 403rd Wing here. "We were able to build camaraderie, and we showed that we could execute our mission and provide operational capability, strategic depth and surge capacity."
The commander commended the wing on its efforts in executing the underlying goal of the operation.
"To me, what 'surge capacity' means is this: 'Can we surge when needed to meet the warfighter's demands?', and we demonstrated that we were able to do that today."