By Mary Nell Sanchez and Minnie Jones 502nd Air Base Wing and the 433rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – Having the right crew is essential when it comes to flying a C-5M Super Galaxy aircraft — that is why instructors at the 733rd Training Squadron and 356th Airlift Squadron here prepare students to operate a multi-million dollar aircraft.
The 733rd TRS and 356th AS are both assigned to the 433rd Operations Group, 433rd Airlift Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
What makes this C-5 Formal Training Unit unique is it is almost entirely staffed by Air Force reservists who are responsible for training all aircrew, including active duty, on the massive C-5M aircraft.
It has the capacity for educating approximately 250 C-5M students annually. Its four operating divisions include Formal Training Unit Administration, Aerial Port, the Career Enlisted Aviator Center of Excellence and Commander Support. Students attending this formal training come from units within the Air Mobility Command and Air Force Reserve Command.
In 2006, the flight training schoolhouse moved from Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma to JBSA-Lackland. It was transferred to the Air Force Reserve under the control of the Air Education Training Command, that is responsible for training aircrews and air battle managers, according to Chief Master Sgt. Mark Sherwood, 356th Airlift Squadron C-5M chief flight engineer.
The training here can be very demanding, Airmen must be dedicated. Pilots must earn their wings before attending the schoolhouse by attending undergraduate pilot training. After receiving their wings, they have to be ready to tackle the school’s curriculum, and the C-5M. The entire process could take up to two years to complete.
“Their flying techniques really have to be adjusted because now they’re on a much larger airplane,” said Sherwood, adding there is a lot of information being taught to these future pilots rather quickly.
Flight engineers and loadmasters must pass in-class academics before they are ready for hands-on training, which includes simulator training and aircraft refueling. It takes approximately 18 months for both loadmasters and flight engineers, to graduate.
While pilots are learning the fundamentals of flying the C-5M, flight engineers and loadmasters are focusing on making sure the aircraft is prepared for flight.
“Being able to work with the different mindsets, because of the three different aircrew positions, we do very well, working as a team,” said Sherwood.
The flight engineer is responsible for a plethora of items on the C-5M, to include preflight, through-flight, and post-flight inspections of aircraft away from home station; determining engine fuel consumption using airspeed, atmospheric data, charts, computer, or electronic calculator; and many other tasks relating to the flight of the aircraft. While the flight engineer is learning to communicate and navigate, the loadmasters do more of the muscle work by making sure the load is balanced and ready for its destination.
For loadmasters, it’s more than just heavy labor. They are responsible for loading and off-loading aircraft, performing pre-flight and post-flight of aircraft and aircraft systems. Other duties include computing weight and balance, conducting cargo and personnel airdrops, and determining the quantity of cargo and passengers or troops to be loaded, and the proper placement in aircraft.
All aircrew positions required a thorough knowledge of mathematics. The first portion, or the gateway into the school, is a curriculum of math.
“The first thing we go through is mathematics. If you can’t pass the mathematics portion, you’re done,” said Master Sgt. Brian Scheben, 356th AS loadmaster instructor.
“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” Sherwood said. “I’ve seen grown men cry because they were not able to complete the course.”
Being a loadmaster can be grueling at times, there is never a break in the action. The recent humanitarian missions to Houston and Puerto Rico, due to Hurricanes Maria and Harvey in 2017 took a toll on the crew.
“There’s no break,” said Scheben as he recalls missions like those are their busiest case scenarios. “By the time you’re up in the air, you’re checking cargo, and by the time you’re done checking cargo, you’re landing.”
An aircrew’s life can hang in the balance on each mission they fly, so the proper and best training available must precede it.
“Here, nobody passes unless they earn it,” said Sherwood.