The heavy equipment drop
The first-ever heavy equipment (HE) drop from a CC-177 Globemaster III in Canada scored a perfect bull’s-eye on the drop zone (DZ) – on time and on target – at precisely 1 p.m. on April 25, 2012.
Flying at 700 feet above ground level, the Globemaster from 429 Transport Squadron, 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., dropped the 5,000 pound load on Drop Zone (DZ) “Hodgson” at Mountain View Airport in Prince Edward County, Ont., using a parachute extraction system.
“We’re moving the yardstick forward again today,” said aircraft commander Major Jean “Johny” Maisonneuve during the concept of operations briefing before the flight. “The purpose of the mission is training and validation of the heavy equipment concept; on the second lift we’re going to accomplish personnel drops.”
Lieutenant-Colonel Jason Stark, commanding officer of 429 Squadron explained the background to the historic moment. “In 2010, the Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division directed 429 Squadron to pursue and airdrop program to be able to dispatch equipment and personnel from the back of a CC-177.”
The squadron has been working steadily towards that goal. In November 2011, a squadron crew successfully carried out the first airdrop of cargo using the container delivery system (CDS), dropping four bundles of 1,300 pounds and a double bundle of 1,700 pounds on two separate passes from 600 feet above ground level. The CDS bundles, which can also be dropped from Hercules, use gravity and the angle of the deck to roll the loads out the back of the aircraft. The heavy equipment loads, on the other hand, are extracted from the aircraft by parachutes.
“Today is our final drop to validate that concept, that task,” continued LCol Stark. “Both of our pilots in the seats today, Maj Johny Maisonneuve and Capt Victor Mota, have both flown airdrops previously [while on exchange] with the United States Air Force and have been spearheading our airdrop program at 429 Squadron since we started.”
Maj Maisonneuve was also one of the first two Canadians certified to fly the Globemaster. He and Maj Jeremy Reynolds served on exchange with the United States Air Force flying Globemasters – starting in 2001 when they flew missions into Iraq and Afghanistan. Maj Maisonneuve is now with the Transport and Rescue Standardization and Evaluation Team (TRSET), located in Trenton, and carries out training and evaluations on missions such as the heavy equipment drop. “We do quality assurance for the Air Force,” he explained.
The Globemaster can carry up to 110,000 pounds of load for heavy equipment drops, and able to do multiple drops on one or several DZs on the same mission. “We’re starting to use [the aircraft]’s capabilities fully,” explained Capt Bart Harbour. “It’s [capable of] of doing a lot more than just replacing the cargo-hauling capability of the chartered Antonovs.”
“The reason I want to do pers drops is mostly for loadmaster training,” Maj Maisonneuve continued during the conops briefing. “I want to thank Queen’s Own Rifles [a Reserve Force unit from Toronto] and the Canadian Forces Land Advanced Warfare Centre [CFLAWC – located at 8 Wing] for stepping up to help us out and finding extra ’chutes. It will be the first time we’ve dropped more than 20 static line jumpers out of the back.”
At 12:38 p.m., the enormous strategic airlifter, piloted by Maj Maisonneuve with first officer Capt Mota in the right-hand seat, lifted off the tarmac – straining against and then breaking free of the pull of gravity. Within a few minutes, the ramp at the back of the aircraft lowered into a horizontal position, displaying a panoramic view of Prince Edward County.
As the aircraft approached the DZ, Warrant Officer Paul Makarchuk, loadmaster for the flight, monitored the release of the 15-foot drogue parachute, which deployed out the back of the aircraft. After 15 seconds of flight, the drogue chute pulled out the 15-foot extraction ’chute that then pulled the two-and-a-half-ton load across rollers set in the aircraft’s deck, towards the ramp. Then, in the blink of an eye, quietly and without fanfare, the cargo went over the edge and disappeared.
About 400 feet out from the aircraft and 300 feet from the ground, the load – in this case simply a huge wooden box filled with sand – stabilized. The 100-foot recovery parachute, rigged on top of the load, burst free and brought the load safely to the ground.
“That’s a bull’s-eye,” came Maj Maisonneuve’s calm voice over the intercom.
Once the load was safely on the ground, Maj Maisonneuve brought the massive aircraft for a low approach and a GOAT – a “go-around after touchdown” – on the Mountain View landing strip. A GOAT is like a “touch-and-go” but a lot faster, with the aircraft touching down only for a second without lowering the nose wheel. It’s used to train pilots in assault landing zone procedures when the runway available for landing is not long enough for normal touch-and-go landings.
“Essentially we just touch down the main landing gear,” explained Maj Maisonneuve “As soon as my main touchdown, we apply full power.”
Back on the tarmac in Trenton, LCol Stark, who flew as a passenger for the morning’s historic drop, was clearly pleased by the success. “It’s fantastic!” he said simply.
The personnel drop
After shut down and some aircraft reconfiguration, 39 parachutists and their jumpmasters boarded the aircraft using the lowered rear ramp. Once everyone was settled in their places, the aircraft took off again, this time with Capt Mota taking the controls as pilot. The aircraft flew a 240 km rectangular circuit north from Trenton, at an altitude of about 300 feet, flying by “VFR” – visual flight rules. Under these circumstances the pilots essentially navigate from map-point to map-point, using visual cues on the ground.
As the aircraft approached the DZ again, Capt Mota increased altitude to 1,000 feet. By this time everyone in the cargo bay of the aircraft was either strapped into seats, wearing parachutes or attached to the aircraft by long-tailed harnesses. Ten minutes before the drop time, the loadmasters pushed the rear troop doors – located on the sides of the aircraft – upward, and suddenly the aircraft was filled with tremendous noise and wind.
The jumpmasters took over. “Unstrap your seat belts!” came the command, loud enough to be heard over the noise, with large hand gestures to draw attention and ensure understanding. “Stand up!” “Hook up!”
After several more minutes flying, the lights at the back of the aircraft turned from red to amber. Thirty seconds later, the lights turned green and the jumpmasters began guiding the soldiers out the two troop doors. Jumping at the rate of one per second, 15 soldiers went out each side, their long yellow static lines, hooked to cables inside the aircraft, pulling the covers of their parachute free as they dropped from the aircraft.
Because of the length of the DZ did not allow for all 39 parachutists to jump, Capt Mota brought the aircraft around for a second approach a few minutes later, and the final nine made their jump.
A few moments later, doors reclosed, the Globemaster turned and landed at Trenton around 5 p.m.
Normally the crew for a CC-177 Globemaster is small – two pilots and one loadmaster. For the April 25 mission, there were extra crew onboard for training and monitoring purposes: one pilot and three loadmasters – Capt Bart Harbour, Master Warrant Officer Ken Reynolds, Master Sergeant Kris Albertson and Sgt Rich Lees.
MSgt Albertson is on exchange from the United States Air Force, where he has been a loadmaster for 18 years. It’s a specialty occupation in the USAF, whereas in Canada loadmasters are members of the traffic technician occupation and are cross-trained as loadmasters. He explained the role of a loadmaster.
“We supervise loading the airplane, we figure the weight and balance and for ops like this we do airdrop. We rig the load, make sure – if we’re doing paratroopers – [that] we brief them, that we’re running all our emergency procedures if we need to, and we’re working with the front end, with the pilots, making sure that we’re operating a cohesive team.”
He said that there are a few differences, mainly in specific procedures and the agencies involved, between flying the Globemaster with the RCAF and with the USAF, but that for the most part “it’s basically the same”.
“It’s exciting to get to stand up something new for another country,” he continued. “It’s really an honour to be up here and be in this role, to help our neighbours to the North out.”
WO Makarchuk explained that the loadmaster is as plugged in to the aircraft as the pilots. At the front of the cargo bay, there’s a loadmaster station, filled with electronic monitoring systems, that is linked to the highly sophisticated mission computer. “The forward loadmaster station is like a little cockpit for the loadmaster…We can control the doors, locks, in-flight, hydraulic systems and so on. We’re all interconnected with the pilots through an intercom system on headsets where we talk to each other quite regularly… and deal with checklist items throughout the flight.”
Maj Maisonneuve was quick to point out that the day’s airdrops didn’t just involve aircrew. “The mission was by no means a 429 Squadron-only effort,” he said. “Many agencies have worked with the squadron and TRSET for over four months to prepare the heavy equipment load for this mission.
“I want to acknowledge the work done by 8 Wing TAMS [Transport Air Mobility Section] and CFLAWC in getting the heavy equipment load ready and rigged. I also want to thank the engineers for providing operational and technical airworthiness authorization. It’s because of all your hard work – it’s not just the Squadron’s.”
“This demonstrates the capability of the airdrop program for the CC-177, and now we’ll be able to focus on force generating our crews to create airdrop-qualified crews [who are] able to dispatch loads, personnel and equipment wherever the Government of Canada and the RCAF need us to,” said LCol Stark.
“We like doing our job and we like delivering the goods on time and on target,” he continued with a grin. “This is just a fantastic capability for 429 Squadron and an unbelievable capability for the Royal Canadian Air Force.”