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Alaska range, airspace critical to combat training

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Justin Weaver
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Ejecting out of a fighter jet at more than 400 miles an hour, aircrew members have one objective--to make it to the ground alive. 

For an F-15 fighter pilot and his navigator, the combat search and rescue training scenario during Red Flag-Alaska 07-1 stranded them with severe injuries on the expansive Pacific Alaskan Range Complex. 

The 210th Rescue Squadron, Detachment 1, immediately received notification of a downed aircraft. However, due to enemy threats in the area, it would take a full day before an attempt to rescue the downed aviators could take place. 

"If there is an enemy threat in the area, we have to wait for it to be eliminated before we can attempt a rescue effort," said Maj. Bill Kupchin, 210th RQS, Det. 1 commander. 

With that in mind, four F-16 Fighting Falcons and two HH-60 Pavehawk helicopters set out the next day with a single goal of extracting the F-15 crew and returning them to safety. 

Initially, the F-16s make contact and authenticate the identity of the downed men, said Maj. Kupchin. Once they have authenticated the survivors, the F-16 pilots provide cover for the Pavehawks as they go in to recover the crew. 

Once on scene, two pararescuemen go to work stabilizing the survivors and preparing them for recovery. 

"Because of the extent of the aircrew's injuries, we decided to off-load the survivors onto a C-130 at a nearby airport," Maj. Kupchin said. "The C-130 would be able to take the injured men to a hospital quicker than our helicopters could." 

Airmen from the 79th Rescue Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., operate the HC-130, which is known for providing rapidly deployable combat search and rescue forces to theater commanders worldwide. 

"The C-130 supports us with air refueling, airdrop and airland of pararescue personnel and equipment in support of combat personnel recovery," Maj. Kupchin said. "Its crews are capable of landings on short, unimproved, runways and low-level operations during day or night, making them a very valuable asset." 

As the Pavehawk crews made their way to Allen-Army Airfield to off-load the injured aircrew, they rendezvoused with a C-130 at 5,000ft for in-flight refueling above the Pacific Alaskan Range Complex. 

Once the pilots received the fuel their aircraft needed, they landed at the airfield to off-load the injured survivors. 

"It's very satisfying when you extract someone safely and get them out of harms way," said Master Sgt. Todd Peplow, 210th RQS aerial gunner. 

Back in the air, the Pavehawk crew flew over to the range complex where 210th RQS aerial gunners used 7.62mm miniguns mounted in the cabin windows to hone their accuracy on training targets such as convoys, hangars and static aircraft. 

"The diverse terrain we have here in Alaska is great because it covers all aspects we might encounter while deployed," said Maj. Kupchin, a 16-year veteran helicopter pilot. "With Red Flag-Alaska exercises, we are able to further enhance our training by working alongside our coalition forces." 

Members of the 353rd Combat Training Squadron control the Pacific Alaska Range Complex's 67,000 square miles of airspace, one conventional bombing range and two tactical bombing ranges -- containing more than 400 different types of targets and more than 30 threat simulators both manned, and unmanned. 

"The ranges here are critical to our training," Maj. Kupchin said. "The threats we train with on range prepare us to handle any threat we might face in theater."