Earth, wind, and fire: reservists own the skies
By Capt. Jeff Kelly, Air Force Reserve Command
/ Published September 11, 2017
ROBINS AFB, Ga. -- For the first time in the nearly 70-year history of the Air Force Reserve, all three special mission units have been called to action simultaneously due to a series of catastrophic events that have effected wide swaths of the U.S.
Reserve Citizen Airmen from across the country are conducting weather reconnaissance, aerial spray and airborne firefighting missions concurrently at different geographic locations. Air Force Reserve Command contributes 100 percent of the weather reconnaissance and aerial spray capabilities and 25 percent of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System capabilities for the Department of Defense. All three capabilities provide significant contributions to our nation's Defense Support to Civil Authorities missions.
Reservists from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the Hurricane Hunters, have been flying weather reconnaissance missions nonstop since Aug. 17. The life-saving data they have collected every day has contributed to the National Hurricane Center’s ability to determine the intensity of multiple storms and predict where they could go. For a few days, Hurricane hunter crews were flying missions in three different hurricanes in the Atlantic region simultaneously for the first time in seven years.
Each storm mission is flown in a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft by a crew made up of at least two pilots, a navigator, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer and a loadmaster. Many of these Reserve Citizen Airmen travel from around the country to be a part of the mission and only a small percent of the squadron are full-time air reserve technicians. The rest are traditional reservists who show up when called and put their civilian jobs and their civilian careers on hold to fly into storms.
“The data we collect is essential to the National Hurricane Center,” said Maj. Kimberly Spusta, 53rd WRS ARWO. “To venture into the center of the storm and get that data is critical so the National Hurricane Center can have the most accurate forecasts possible. That data will undoubtedly save lives.”
While the Hurricane Hunters fly missions into the eye of the storm, AFRC’s 302nd Airlift Wing is assisting the National Interagency Fire Center to provide a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped C-130H Hercules aircraft and aircrew to support ongoing aerial firefighting efforts in the western U.S.
Multiple geographic areas in the western U.S. are experiencing significant wildfire incidents requiring aerial firefighting support.
“It’s been an active six weeks for our MAFFS crews and support personnel – our Air Force Reservists are trained and ready to provide additional support,” said Col. James DeVere, commander of the 302 AW. “MAFFS 2 and its crew will contribute to the overall team efforts and work in support of fire suppression in the Western U.S.”
The Colorado Reserve wing has been supporting the U.S. Forest Service requests for assistance with a MAFFS C-130H since July 30, 2017, in response to the U.S. Forest Service request for assistance, which began the federal activation of three MAFFS-equipped aircraft.
To complete the trifecta of AFRC special mission units providing emergency support currently, AFRC’s 910th Airlift Wing has been tasked with providing its unique aerial spray capability to assist with recovery efforts in eastern Texas, following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
The 910 AW operates the Department of Defense’s only aerial spray capability to control pest insect populations, eliminate undesired and invasive vegetation and disperse oil spills in large bodies of water. Due to the large amount of standing, polluted water, populations of pest insects that can transmit diseases are increasing significantly. This poses a health risk to rescue workers and residents of Houston. Authorities have requested the 910 AW to treat more than six million affected acres.
This mission will primarily target mosquitoes which are capable of transmitting diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, Zika and various types of encephalitis. Increased populations of these pest insects can eventually lead to individual cases or widespread outbreak of these diseases. The pest insects can also hinder recovery workers, resulting in less time in the field.
The 910th’s customized Modular Aerial Spray System is capable of a wide-variety of applications. For mosquito control, the system uses the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved and regulated material “naled,” which is not used in amounts large enough to cause any concern for human health, according to the EPA. The system disperses droplets small enough to land on a mosquito’s wing, using less than one ounce of naled per acre. That’s less than one shot glass for an area the size of a football field.
The Air Force Reserve is comprised of nearly 70,000 Reserve Citizen Airmen and will continue to innovate new ways in vital areas of defense to protect the United States.