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Hawaii, California Guardsmen practice space capsule recovery

Guardian Angel pararescuemen from the 131st Rescue Squadron parachute descend into the ocean May 20, 2021, at Santa Cruz Water Drop Zone, Calif. Airmen, rescue craft and life-support equipment were airdropped by a C-17 Globemaster III, operated by a Hawaii Air National Guard aircrew.

Guardian Angel pararescuemen from the 131st Rescue Squadron parachute descend into the ocean May 20, 2021, at Santa Cruz Water Drop Zone, Calif. Airmen, rescue craft and life-support equipment were airdropped by a C-17 Globemaster III, operated by a Hawaii Air National Guard aircrew. Members validated their ability to recover a splashed-downed team of astronauts during a contingency rescue event. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Stefany Leyva)

Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Salvador, and Staff Sgt. Justin Lun, 204th Airlift Squadron loadmasters, secure rescue equipment onto a C-17 Globemaster III May 18, 2021, at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif. Hawaii

Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Salvador, and Staff Sgt. Justin Lun, 204th Airlift Squadron loadmasters, secure rescue equipment onto a C-17 Globemaster III May 18, 2021, at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif. Hawaii Air National Guard Airmen flew to California to validate their ability to recover a splashed-downed team of astronauts during a contingency rescue event. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Stefany Leyva)

MOFFET FIELD, Calif. --

Hawaii and California Air National Guard Airmen completed a week-long series of search-and-rescue training missions May 21, at Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif.

The training entailed coordinated airdrops of rescue packages into the Santa Cruz Water Drop Zone, conducted by an aircrew from the 204th Airlift Squadron and Guardian Angel rescue teams from the 131st Rescue Squadron. In support of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, training scenarios were held to validate their ability to provide rescue support in the event of a contingency landing.

“This has been an extremely beneficial experience for us all,” said Capt. Evan Kurosu, 204th AS exercise planner. “This mission is so dynamic, which requires a high level of experience. It pushes us to be flexible and can only be accomplished by working closely with the Human Space Flight Support Operations and the PJ community.”

Prior to each transit from earth to orbit and back, C-17 Globemaster IIs are fully equipped with pararescue teams, rescue craft and life-support equipment. Aircraft are postured out of Joint-Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Joint Base Charleston, SC, ready to aid space travelers if the capsule lands outside of the planned landing sites.

Guardian Angel teams, such as that of the participating 131st RS, require an intense two-year training program and are equipped with heightened recovery skill sets that can be applied in extreme and austere conditions during peacetime and war.

Combining rescue capabilities with a C-17 is a new development in the airlift community, making ongoing training a critical component of mission readiness for all personnel involved. In contrast with smaller and more conventional rescue aircraft, such as HH-60 and HC-130 class airframes, the C-17 can travel farther, faster and is capable of deploying all rescue elements from a single fuselage.

Mission participants were challenged to adjust their operations to a wide range of environmental conditions and logistical factors such as wind, lighting, water conditions, geographic displacement and communication signals, which often push rescuers to come up with alternative approaches at any point during the mission.

To offer contrasting scenarios to the rescue repertoire, participants located and attended to the staged victim who was ‘stranded’ aboard a mock-space capsule during the initial rescue event, followed by a similar operation that was held at nighttime.

In the event of a real-world search-and-rescue mission, aviators would use telemetry systems and radio communication devices to reach the splashed-downed capsule and would apply a set of search patterns to make visual contact with the astronaut crew.

While participants of the exercise had a clear agenda to practice their rescue competencies, mission planners are always looking for ways to accomplish additional training requirements along the way.

The C-17 aircrew scheduled and flew a unique low-level sortie on a Military Training Route located near Travis Air Force Base, Calif., to qualify aviators with evasive maneuvers which are applicable for their wartime skillset. In addition, Guardian Angel pararescuemen also obtained land-based High Altitude Low Opening or HALO training required for their jumpmaster upgrade curriculum.

Since the first manned-CCP flights started last year, all launches to-and-from orbit went according to plan, leaving standby rescue crews on the ground at their respective takeoff installations, while primary recovery teams ensured crews were brought back safely.