Hickam crew prepares for AMC Rodeo Published June 25, 2007 By Tech. Sgt. Chris Vadnais HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii (AFPN) -- Pilots normally don't want to see another aircraft traveling dangerously close to their own. But during in-flight refueling, jets have to get very close. "One of the first lines in the manual for in-flight refueling is 'flying two planes in close proximity is inherently dangerous,'" said Maj. Jason Mills, a C-17 pilot with the 535th Airlift Squadron. "We're approximately 35 to 40 feet away from the other plane, so the dynamics--the wind traveling between the two planes--change the way we fly a little bit," he said. As risky as it might seem, in-flight refueling is a critical part of the C-17's strategic airlift capability. Hickam's C-17 crews will get the chance to see how well they can leverage that capability next month in the 2007 Air Mobility Command Rodeo. The AMC Rodeo challenges air crews from all over the world in every aspect of their airframe's mission. This will be the first competition for Hickam's C-17 crew, which will also be the only total force team. The crew consists of members of the active duty 535th Airlift Squadron and the Hawaii Air National Guard's 204th Airlift Squadron. "We're going to be graded on accuracy and timing, management of our time, and executing the events correctly and safely," said Major Mills. "It's a challenge to piece that all into a short sortie, probably a four-hour sortie, and to do it all well and safely in that short time." The playing field is not only in the sky; there are also ground challenges including backing the C-17 to a specified location, and conducting an engines-running onload and offload of cargo. The pilots have to work blindly for some of those tasks. "When I'm back there I'm the eyes for the aircraft commander--the pilot--when we're backing up," said Tech. Sgt. Ansen Lucas, a C-17 loadmaster. "They can't see, obviously, what's going on behind the aircraft so I have to relay that information back to them," he said. What might seem like dangerous and difficult tasks are everyday procedures for these aircrews. Next month's AMC rodeo will add some extra challenges to the mix.