An increase in the redeployment of UK military kit from Afghanistan as combat operations draw down there has placed an increasing demand on the UK’s largest military cargo aircraft, the C-17 Globemaster.
The RAF’s eight-strong fleet of the massive aircraft – operated by 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire – routinely carry outsize loads into and out of Afghanistan and across the globe in support of operations and exercises.
As the Afghan National Security Forces continue to lead on security across Afghanistan, UK combat operations will draw down before the end of 2014. This leaves a lot of kit to redeploy from Afghanistan, in a cross-Defence operation called CATALINA. 99 Squadron’s C-17s – each able to carry over 45 tonnes of freight – are currently enacting phase 8 of Operation CATALINA. This phase required a surge increase in manpower, including an additional crew to conduct more intra-theatre runs, and associated increases in Engineering support. The latter comprised a deployed engineering detachment of four engineers and one junior engineering officer (JEngO) besides the Ground Engineers who routinely work on each aircraft as part of the crew. The engineering detachment normally work in 12-hour shifts with the JEngO providing overall supervision. He or she also authorises ‘deferred faults’ and imposes limitations according to the state of the aircraft.
JEngO Flight Lieutenant Ron Towers said: ’Being away from the hub of RAF Brize Norton gives me more responsibility for decisions about the aircraft, all of which directly affect operations. We work hard to fix the aircraft and keep them serviceable in these hot dusty conditions, so they can complete their taskings.’
In Afghanistan the heat can top 50C during midsummer and 99 Squadron’s engineers work long hours meeting and sending off each C-17 which comes in, besides carrying out rectification work in between. Shifts can get very busy; sometimes more than one jet at a time requires attention from the small engineering team. Sometimes the rectification work requires all five personnel to be there, such as when a double front wheel-change is needed.
All team members assisted with a double-wheel change on Sunday 8th September, on aircraft ZZ177. Six hours later all staff were in again to deal with another C-17, which had just returned from an intra-theatre run and had to be turned around for its next job within three hours. This aircraft presented three ‘snags’: a defensive aids suite (DAS) issue, an electronic fault on the fuel gauge and problems with a system which assists with de-icing at high altitudes.
Sergeant Pete McCarthy set about investigating the engine issue, whilst Senior Aircraftsman Joe Attwood consulted the technical orders (effectively a Haynes Manual for the C-17 Globemaster) and Corporal Martin Vaughan completed the relevant paperwork, including noting all faults and work carried out in the aircraft’s log book. Within hours, one of the RAF’s new Voyager aircraft transporting troops out to Theatre brought out the spare part required for Senior Aircraftsman Alex Western to fix the DAS. Despite the extreme temperatures and the aircraft itself ‘overheating’ on the pan (as advertised by a deafening alarm) the team completed the work and the aircraft was ready and available for its next mission.
The next rotation of engineers is due out within four weeks and although temperatures will continue to drop they will undoubtedly be working just as hard as their predecessors – and the jet itself – to facilitate the extra sorties required for transition in Afghanistan. The C-17 is a critical and reliable workhorse in Theatre – as are the engineers who keep it running.
Editor: Sqn Ldr Wasley
RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2013