At 30,000 feet AWACS crew demonstrates operations to local media

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Separately, they're 26 Airmen who have answered their nation's call. Together, they're the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron's Golden Eagles AWACS mission crew. Situated in an E-3 Sentry, a modified Boeing 707 with a radome, the crew flies at approximately 30,000 feet processing communication information for ally aircraft and ground combat troops.

With the potential of being called into action occurring at any moment, the crew readies itself with frequent training flights. Lasting roughly six to eight hours apiece, the unit practices real-world situations including determining friend and foe aircraft, communicating with fighter jets during battle and refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker. The crew also practices emergency occurrences such as a loss in cabin pressure or onboard fires. During a recent local media training flight, the crew showed community members their capabilities.

"The mission is vital to the air battle," said Lt. Col. Trey Mykytn, mission crew commander and 965th AACS commander. "This was proven in Operation Odyssey Dawn. We provided command and control to an international coalition of aircraft all in an effort to stem the violence against Libyan civilians. Our efforts were saving people from being needlessly targeted against Libyan regime.

"The men and women of the 965th constantly train as though it's the last opportunity they'll get, before we are required to deploy," Colonel Mykytn said. "They are always prepared and have performed brilliantly."

During the June 11 flight that flew over northeastern Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Arkansas, news media walked around the aircraft observing the crew and learning their mission and the 13 positions performed on the aircraft.
While job descriptions varied, the overall passion and dedication to the mission echoed throughout the aircraft.

"I feel a sense of pride in what the 552nd Air Control Wing and what the AWACS has accomplished," said Master Sgt. Stephen Stencel, radar technician and squadron operations superintendent. "I am glad to be a part of this."

Co-pilot 1st Lt. Jason Menedez agreed.

"It's a cool honor," he said.

But, with the sense of pride comes enormous responsibility, said pilot and aircraft commander Capt. Fernando Nicolade.

"The longer I fly, the more I see the important role we play," said the pilot of nearly four years. "We're keeping troops safe on the ground in Afghanistan and safe in the air in Libya. But, it's a lot of responsibility. They trust you and give you everything."

Tinker has 28 E-3s and there are approximately 1,800 crew members within the wing who are qualified to fly. Airmen must have 18-24 months of uninterrupted training before becoming crew members.