New York, Hawaii Airmen prepped for astronaut recovery

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman John Linzmeier
  • 154th Wing Public Affairs

Members of the New York and Hawaii Air National Guard pushed their search and rescue capabilities to new heights off the coast of Oahu Mar. 4, during a simulated mission to recover adrift astronauts.

The training scenario was held to ensure rescuers are ready to support NASA operations.

For example, in the event of a major space-system malfunction, astronauts have the option to prematurely return to earth via ballistic reentry, a procedure in which a small capsule detaches from the spacecraft and descends with the aid of parachutes. Should this happen, the ANG is called in to aid the fallen astronauts.

The outbound-response team is comprised of pararescue Airmen from NYANG’s 103rd Rescue Squadron and a local aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron. For training purposes, the responders were ‘alerted’ of an inflight emergency when the spacecraft entered earth’s atmosphere. Upon notification, the rescue Airmen geared-up and assembled for their pre-flight briefing.

Both teams were pushed to react at an accelerated pace to replicate the urgency of an actual downed aircraft.

“We specifically wanted to induce high levels of stress into this training,” said Maj. Britton Komine, 204th Airlift Squadron pilot and mission planner. “So when we actually are called out for a rescue scenario, contingency mission or even to fight a war, then we are absolutely ready to operate under adverse circumstances and we're still going to be combat effective.”

Unlike normal flight operations, the response team has very little time to spare, as the fallen astronauts can land virtually anywhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron had a C-17 Globemaster III prepped for flight the day prior. This made it possible for the Airmen to take off relatively quickly upon receiving notification of the emergency.

The onboard pararescue Airmen, also known as PJs, specialize in recovering downed aircrews from otherwise unreachable areas. Each member is also a trained paramedic and able to treat a wide-range of injuries before taking the victim to higher medical care.

While the main objective of the training was to recover astronauts, the participants also completed several other readiness objectives. Each loadmaster, PJ and pilot involved has an important series of tasks which must be completed for them to stay qualified in their field of work.

During the flight, 204th AS loadmasters practiced dropping resupply bundles for the first time in Hawaii. This method is used to rapidly deliver medical supplies, food or any other equipment to those in need.

The HAING’s Globmasters were built to take on multi-faceted missions such as this. With its wide array of capabilities, members of the 204th can deliver troops and cargo around the world at a moment’s notice, to include the transport of ambulatory patients for aeromedical evacuations and large amounts of disaster relief supplies for humanitarian aid missions.

This has been the second year in a row the two squadrons collaborated for a simulated rescue mission. In addition to the recovery training, the two squadrons spent the following two days, March 4-5, practicing high-altitude low-opening jumps above Kaneohe Bay.

"I believe the 103rd RQS of the NYANG and 204th AS of the HIANG are at the tip of the spear for readiness of this potential real-world mission," said Maj. Edward Boughal, 103rd RQS combat rescue officer. “This exercise specifically identifies the strategic value of employing Guardian Angel [CROs and PJs] from C-17 aircraft providing a Global Reach capability to Air Force Rescue."