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17th SOS launches first MC-130J five-ship formation flight

February 23, 2016 (by SrA Peter Reft) - Instead of the usual howl of jet engines, Team Kadena heard the growl of 120 turboprop blades chopping the air as 17th Special Operations Squadron MC-130J Commando II aircraft dominated the airfield scene February 17, 2016.

USAF MC-130J Command II's assigned to the 17th SOS fly in formation February 17, 2016, off the coast of Okinawa Japan. [USAF photo by SrA Peter Reft]

Within an hour of standing by at stations, the aircraft took to the skies during the Pacific region's first five-ship formation flight involving the new specialized mobility aircraft.

The formation was part of the 353rd Special Operations Group's training exercise that tested the 17th SOS and the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron to launch a short-notice, large-scale tasking.

"We routinely fly two ships, but we mobilized five ships to test our ability to generate aircraft in full force , to make sure our maintenance can support that, and to make sure we can do the planning in case we are ever asked to fly a large formation," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Brad Talley, 17th SOS assistant director of operations.

As part of that assessment, team members evaluated their formation flying and short runway landings, combat systems operators tested their cargo air drop timing, and load masters tested their cargo delivery system rigging abilities.

"We mobilized all available personnel in the squadron to execute this mission, while all five planes were able to accomplish all cargo drops, land in a small landing zone, maintain formation, and return safely," Talley said.

Though the team successfully accomplished the exercise objectives, it wasn't a simple process. Despite complex procedures, the 17th SOS Jakal team members overcame the challenges to ensure mission completion.

"The most difficult portion was the planning and safe execution of the mission, since most of our squadron isn't used to that level of de-confliction complexity," said Senior Airman Zach Harmon, 17th SOS MC-130J Commando II loadmaster.

To Talley, the best part of the mission was seeing the whole team fly together and build camaraderie.

"My favorite part was flying in close formation with all my Jakal brethren, exploring various formation geometries, and seeing how well each crew flew," Talley said.
The 17th SOS was activated as a permanent unit at Kadena AB on Aug. 1, 1989, and is instrumental in carrying out wartime and contingency operations in support of U.S. and allied special operations forces.

The 17th SOS began the transition from the MC-130P Combat Shadows to the MC-130J Commando II in Dec. 2014, and the latest aircraft arriving on Kadena in Oct. 2015. Technological advances allow the Commando II to set new standards for safety and accuracy in executing clandestine missions.

The new aircraft specializes in night-time, low-level infiltration/exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces as well as air refueling missions for special operations vertical lift aircraft.

The 353rd SOG, made up of more than 800 Airmen, is the only Air Force Special Operations unit in the Pacific and is integral to the Air Force Special Operations Command. The group conducts wartime and contingency operations planning and execution as well as humanitarian and relief operations, all the while maintaining global mobility readiness for Special Forces around the world.

Courtesy of 18th Wing Public Affairs Office

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USAF MC-130J Command II's assigned to the 17th SOS fly in formation February 17, 2016, off the coast of Okinawa Japan. [USAF photo by SrA Peter Reft]

USAF MC-130J Command II's assigned to the 17th SOS taxi down the runway February 17, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. [USAF photo by SrA Peter Reft]