Operation Christmas Drop 2016
By Senior Airman Delano Scott
/ Published December 11, 2016
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, GUAM --
This is it. Years of training, months of planning, days of briefings and hours of flight have lead to this single moment. One mistake could mean that a remote island does not receive supplies that they’d been looking forward to since last year. The pilots, engineer, loadmaster, each crewmember of the C-130 Hercules play an important role in delivering the bundle. However, airlift during Operation Christmas Drop 2016 could not be accomplished without the C-130H navigator.
The navigator drives the C-130H mission here at Operation Christmas Drop. Utilizing the Self Contained Navigation System, which houses the waypoints of different locations the aircraft is flying to, navigators tell the pilots where to fly the plane. The SCNS also contains ballistic data that helps the navigators to decide when a bundle should leave the aircraft.
At Christmas Drop, C-130Hs utilize drops zones that that are built on the fly by the navigator. Normally, the navigator has a survey that tells them the exact coordinates of where to drop while also having someone on the ground measuring the wind. However, at Christmas Drop, crewmembers do not have access to these luxuries. When delivering bundles to remote Micronesians, they have to do it all on the fly.
“Situations like these legitimize the training we do throughout the year,” said Capt. David Lynn, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130H navigator. “It’s the ultimate test of job knowledge. Do you know how to analyze the winds? Can you look outside and use visual references and not rely on the computer? These are some of the questions you’ll have to ask and answer yourself. When we do a lot of our training, it’s about trying to hit a dot on the ground. Here, it’s about getting the supplies to the people.”
For navigators, Christmas Drop’s unique training opportunity also presents a noteworthy challenge that appears in the final minute before a drop. With an array of different factors impacting the bundle, including wind speed and ballistic effects of parachutes coming down to the ground, ensuring that the drop is precise and retrievable by the islanders is not small tasking.
“Everything has to be perfect,” said Capt. Darryl Lawyor, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130H navigator. “Ensuring precision each and every time we drop is something I’m confident our guys are able to accomplish and that’s something I take pride in. I am grateful that I can rely on everyone else on my team to make my job successful.”
This Christmas Drop is particularly special for navigators as next year, a new team will of Yokota C-130J Super Hercules will be taking the H-model’s place. As the J-model lacks the need for a navigator, this means that this Christmas Drop will be their last. Whether it’s other navigator centric aircraft like the RC or KC-135, or becoming mission planners on the ground, Yokota’s transition to the J-model offers navigators a variety of different opportunities to continue to serve. However, for Lynn, the memories of being a H-model navigator will not be soon forgotten.
“This being the last C-130H Christmas Drop breaks my heart,” Lynn said. “I love being a C-130H navigator. While there are opportunities to remain a C-130H navigator either in the Guard or Reserve, doing this job here at Yokota is the best. I wish other people could continue to have the experienced I’ve had because delivering humanitarian aid is the most rewarding feeling I’ve experienced as a navigator.”