Hurricane Hunters investigate training options at Kirtland AFB
By Maj. Marnee A.C. Losurdo, 403rd Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 20, 2015
KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Being the only weather reconnaissance squadron in the Department of Defense providing surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes for the National Hurricane Center can present some unique challenges--like aircrew training.
A quest for improved WC-130J Combat Systems Operator training led the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, to visit the 58th Special Operation Wing's 58th Training Squadron's C-130J Center of Excellence at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Jan. 12-14.
The 58th SOW, which received MC-130J and HC-130Js in 2011, is the only school house in the Air Force that offers C-130J CSO, or navigator, training. The wing trains Air Force special operations and combat search and rescue aircrews offering more than 100 courses in 18 different crew positions to include pilots, loadmasters and CSOs. It was the unit's CSO course that prompted the 53rd WRS to investigate future training opportunities at Kirtland, said Lt. Col. Matthew Muha, 53rd WRS commander and navigator.
All special mission C-130s have navigators because of the workload the specials systems require. While a typical C-130J crew consists of two pilots and a loadmaster, a WC-130J Hurricane Hunter aircrew consists of five positions: pilot, co-pilot, aerial weather reconnaissance officer, loadmaster, and combat systems operator, or navigator. For the weather mission, CSOs prepare weather recon mission plans, use navigational equipment to locate and penetrate tropical cyclones, and use radar to avoid areas of extreme weather in a storm.
"Sometimes it takes two pilots just to fly the plane in very severe weather so the navigator is guiding us through the least severe of the severe weather," said Lt. Col. Keith Gibson, 53rd WRS director of operations and pilot.
Currently, 53d WRS pilots and loadmasters go through their initial C-130J training at 314th Airlift Wing's tactical airlift "Center of Excellence" at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas. CSOs from the 53d WRS have no external formal school, so they train in-house at Keesler.
"When our pilots and loadmasters go to Little Rock for initial and mission qualification, the CSO is not part of the crew. This is a disadvantage for not only the CSO, but also the pilots and loadmasters since they don't have a CSO on the crew for their initial training in the C-130J," said Muha, adding that the squadron has an Air Education and Training Command approved syllabus for specialized mission training for CSOs and ARWOs. "An advantage of training our CSOs at the 58th is they would get to train with pilots and loadmasters as a crew. This will make all crew positions more accustomed to working together as a team, which greatly improves crew resource management."
Another advantage of training at Kirtland would be the availability for simulator training, said Gibson. CSOs currently conduct all training in the actual WC-130J aircraft during flight.
"It's a lot cheaper to train personnel on a simulator versus during an actual mission," said Gibson. "With a simulator trainers can create different environments such as day, night, high-level, low-level, and bad weather to force the crews to work together in those situations. We can't create bad weather so when our CSOs train for the weather mission it is real-world."
The 53rd WRS originally visited Kirtland in November 2014 to investigate training options for their CSOs, but while there they discovered the school also has courses that may benefit their other crewmembers as well, which prompted the visit to the 58th TRS this week, said Muha.
The group of nine Hurricane Hunters received an overview of the school, a tour of training devices, to include simulators, and had in-depth discussion with wing, group and squadron leadership about the potential for WC-130J training at Kirtland.
"The training they offer here is also excellent for pilots and loadmasters but it is undetermined if it's more appropriate than what is already provided at Little Rock," said Col. David J. Condit, 403rd Operations Group commander and navigator. "There may also be some potential for aircraft systems training for ARWOs who also have to do all of their training in-house at the squadron."