What we do; The Mighty 97th

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Cody Dowell
  • Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs

Activated as a multi-engine flight training school in 1943, Altus Air Force Base has been the cornerstone of Southwestern Oklahoma for 75 years. Over the past seven and a half decades, the base has evolved to become the premier air mobility training location in the United States Air Force.

Currently, Altus AFB trains C-17 Globemaster III pilots and loadmasters, as well as KC-135 Stratotanker pilots and inflight refuelers. Approximately 1,700 students are trained here annually, including aircrew of foreign allies. The students train at this location because of the air space it provides for training.

“The Altus area is great for the base’s training needs,” said Tech. Sgt. Zach Steenhusen, 58th Airlift Squadron C-17 evaluator loadmaster. “The weather for a majority of the year is blue skies, which is ideal for the training environment. Another great aspect is that the airspace that we fly through is not very busy and allows ample time for training.”

The aircraft here are fully comprised of students training. This maximizes training time with the least amount of flight time.

“While the pilots are getting their in-flight certifications, so are the loadmasters and in-flight refuelers in the back of each aircraft,” said Steenhusen. “The students perform several tasks while being evaluated by instructors to validate their training.”

The base is the only C-17 Formal Training Unit for Air Education and Training Command. Every military member and many foreign allies who operate within a C-17 learn their skills from Altus AFB.

“A loadmaster is basically in charge of ensuring that the back of the aircraft is safe and sound,” said Steenhusen. “They make sure the balance of the aircraft won’t get thrown off, that the cargo is properly restrained and also keep passengers safe.”

Altus AFB is also the only U.S. Air Force KC-135 Formal Training Unit. The KC-135’s ability to refuel aircraft in flight enhances the Air Force's capability to accomplish its primary missions of global reach and global power.

“Having global reach capabilities is vital in the operational Air Force and the KC-135 is the premier refueling aircraft to extend that reach,” said Maj. Soran Java, 54th Air Refueling Squadron assistant director of operations. “Inflight refuelers are the median between the two aircraft. They are tasked with the responsibility to safely refuel the other aircraft, allowing the mission to continue.”

The KC-135 is vital to maintain air superiority, but Altus AFB is getting an upgrade in the near future.

“The KC-46 Pegasus is a modernized version of the KC-135,” said Java. “The KC-46 is more automated with built-in sensors for the inflight refueler and just like the KC-135 it is also a small cargo aircraft. The sensors relieve them of time sensitive and heavy manual labor that the KC-135 had. Additionally the KC-46 can receive and deliver fuel to and from other aircraft, making the transfer of fuel more accessible.”

The rest of the base is tasked with additional supportive duties to make sure the Airmen training here are receiving proper and streamlined training. This responsibility to the base is better assisted with the approval received from and close relationship with the local community.

“Without the support and coordination with the local community, the base could not teach students properly,” said Java. “The community welcomes our Airmen with things like the Committee of 100 dinner, military involvement with city events, cattle drives and parades. This area has one of the greatest community relationships I have seen with an Air Force base.”

Altus Air Force Base has come a long way over the past 75 years. With the help of the local community members and Airmen stationed here, the base will continue to train the 1,700 students that annually come here to extend the Air Force’s mission of global reach.