Rain, sleet or dark of night, C-17 pilot training must go on

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Dorothy Goepel
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
This is the final article in a three-part series on C-17 and night vision goggle training at Altus Air Force Base. 

Growing up, Capt. Gordon Roman dreamed of flying aircraft at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., like his father, retired Lt. Col. Marc Roman, a former reservist who had flown C-5s with the 312th Airlift Squadron. 

A traditional reservist who had previously served four years on active duty, Captain Roman eventually realized his dream. 

After flying KC-135s with the 940th Air Refueling Wing at Beale AFB, Calif., and with the installation's impending BRAC action, Captain Roman was hired by the 301st Airlift Squadron at Travis to fly C-17s. 

The captain's new assignment would first send him to the plains of Oklahoma, where he would be among the officers enrolled in C-17 Pilot Initial Qualification training at Altus AFB, home of the 58th Airlift Squadron, the world's only C-17 Formal Training Unit. 

His training began on March 20 and culminated on June 28 to include simulator training, flying the C-17 in the daytime, and flying the aircraft at night, using night vision goggles. The required night flight took place on June 22. 

That night, the pilots were briefed that thunderstorms in Altus were forecast to begin at midnight and last until 3 a.m. 

"If weather is severe or forecast to be severe, most pilots will not fly or will try to fly another route," said Senior Airman James Moats, a weather forecaster with the 97th Operations Support Squadron. 

Tech. Sgt. Paul D. Guenther, a loadmaster evaluator/instructor with the 58th AS Standards and Evaluations office, was scheduled for the same flight as Captain Roman. Permanent party instructors at Altus are required to maintain currency on NVGs, explained Sergeant Guenther. 

Capt. James M. Bieker, 58th Airlift Squadron pilot scheduler, was the instructor pilot on June 22 for Captain Roman and Capt. Jorge L. Carrera, a traditional reservist with the 301st Airlift Squadron at Travis. 

"Most of the maneuvers accomplished that night were three-fourths flap landings and full flap landings (the two configurations for normal landings in the C-17) to get the students familiar with night landings wearing NVGs," said Captain Bieker.
Early in the flight a maintenance problem arose. 

"The C-17 is an 'electric' jet, meaning there is no mechanical connection between the flight controls in the flight deck and the control surfaces on the wing, rudder, etc.," Captain Bieker explained. 

"There was a fault in the flight control actuator, requiring maintenance to run a check of the flight controls on the ground." Maintenance personnel ran their check, the problem cleared, and the instructor and his students were able to fly out again. 

Captain Bieker completed assault landings while Captains Roman and Carrera gave him feedback on his approach. 

"This procedure is required due to the challenge of the approach," said Captain Bieker.
"It's necessary for another set of eyes to be active in monitoring this steep approach (greater than three degrees), onto a 3,500-foot runway. The assault landing is the most challenging approach since it's a smaller runway that requires the aircraft to land within a 500-foot zone," he said. 

The planned tactical approaches and threat maneuvering on a low-level route had to be rescheduled in part because of the weather. An upper-level trough at around 20,000 feet resulted in a downpour of 1.77 inches of rain that night, noted Senior Airman Moats. 

On June 26, Captains Roman and Carrera completed the remaining requirements. 

"The C-17 mission is versatile and challenging," said Captain Roman. "Our training alone at Altus gave us the opportunity to fly low-level missions on NVGs, fly air refueling missions and practice assault landings."