25,000 personnel participated in the Rim of the Pacific 2016 exercise from June 30 to August 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
In this blog, two Canadian pilots share their experiences during the world’s largest international maritime exercise that brought 26 nations together with more than 40 ships, five submarines and 200 aircraft, fostering and sustaining cooperative relationships to ensure the safety of sea lanes and security of the world’s oceans.
RIMPAC 2016: A day in the life of a CC-130T Pilot
By Capt. Jean-Paul DeGagne
One might think that working out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, is all glitz and glamour, but flying the Hercules (CC-130T) Air-to-Air Refueling Tanker during RIMPAC is a lot of hard work. It’s been super busy on this exercise – between learning best practices about how to work as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s largest ever deployed air task force, studying brand new procedures about how to fly out of the busy and congested Honolulu International Airport, and learning about becoming an aircraft Commander on the Hercules, sometimes I have to remember to take a moment to catch my breath.
We are here to contribute to something huge. The tarmac at Hickam Field on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is packed to the gills with many aircraft from around the world, including our own CF-18s and CP-140s, making the ramp a plane spotter’s dream. We work in a crew of six: two pilots, one flight engineer, a navigator and two loadmasters who act as observers from the back windows to help the pilots guide the jets. After finishing up our flight planning, the crew fires up the mighty Hercules and taxis for departure. Then, we’re off to cruise over the Pacific and stand ready for customers in need of fuel.
Once airborne, our missions are familiar, but while they’re similar to those we’ve done in the past, the best part is that we get to fuel jets from other nations. Most often, the jets come to us two at a time when their fuel state is low, so they have two choices: either head back to the ship or base, or visit us so we can replenish their fuel, allowing them to remain airborne awhile longer. We provide them with as much fuel as they require, and as quickly as possible, so they can return to the scenario in the shortest amount of time. After the fighters take what fuel they need, we exchange pleasantries and they’re roaring off into the sky again. Once we’ve given away all of our available fuel –about 5,900 gallons per mission, it’s mission accomplished and we head back in to tell our colleagues the tales of our Pacific adventure of the day.
RIMPAC 2016: A day in the life of a Sea King Pilot
By Capt. Sebastien Bouchard
Wakey Wakey, testing general alarm: “BONGBONG BONGBONG.” This alarm signals another day as a Sea King pilot at sea. Halfway through RIMPAC 2016, I am still adjusting to life on the ship. This is my first deployment since I began pilot training in June 2010. I left Victoria, Canada, onboard the Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Vancouver (FFH 331), and after saying goodbye to my family and friends, I entered a whole new world I was unfamiliar with. It has been a month and a half, and I haven’t been sick yet, so I guess I’m doing something right!
After having a quick bite to eat, I down a couple cups of coffee and head for the stairs to seek out some much needed sunlight which I know will really wake me up. I can feel the petty officer’s displeasure with my use of the word stairs; I know they’re actually called ladders, but I continue to call them stairs anyway. I climb up and head out onto the flight deck. Hurricane Darby is on its way, the seas are getting rougher, and the wind is howling. I’m excited to fly today. So far, the weather has been calm; the promise of a change in conditions presents a welcome challenge.
I’m in the briefing room with my aircraft captain, the tactical coordinator and the airborne electronic sensor operator. Today’s mission is a vertical replenishment. We are part of a task group of five ships. U.S. Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) is here to provide fuel, fresh fruits and vegetables, mail, parts and other required goods; these pallets can only be brought to the ship via helicopter.
We have 30 minutes to eat after our briefing before we get ready to fly. How did my spouse’s meeting at work go? I wonder. I push back the thoughts from home that pop into my mind. Flying stations are piped (the Navy term meaning something is announced over the ship’s intercom system) and I head down the hallway and up the stairs to the hangar. I hope my dad is doing well after his medical incident, I think. I settle into the right seat of the CH-124 Sea King and focus, getting my head in the game as there’s no room for distractions now.
These flying conditions are very challenging for us – hovering over the back of a ship with a five story superstructure in front of the flight deck creates a lot of turbulence when facing 35 knots of wind. These conditions make the aircraft difficult to control, and the heat pushes the power requirements to their limits. We transport nine pallets over to an Australian frigate, and then a few to the New Zealand ship. Three and a half hours later, after taking fuel on the Aussie ship, we’re back on Vancouver. Tired, thirsty and sore, I think about how I just flew one of the most challenging and exciting missions of my career.
Having received its supplies, the task group is now well-stocked and ready to take part in the events that will follow in the next few days. The Sea King may be used to hunt submarines, search surface contacts as an extension of the ship, or transfer distinguished visitors and medical patients either to other ships or back to Hickam Air Field on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. It’s exciting and refreshing that I never know what’s next. I take a moment to connect with my family through email and find out everyone is doing well. Although we are attached to the Navy, today was a great Air Force day.
Editor’s note: For more information on RIMPAC 2016, visit the following links:
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