Historic Exercise Steel Challenge

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt Jonathan Hehnly, 911th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A six-ship C-130 Hercules aircraft formation was launched for possibly the final time from the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Coraopolis, Pa on November 6, 2016, during Exercise Steel Challenge 16-01.

With the 911th Airlift Wing’s pending conversion from the C-130 Hercules aircraft to the C-17 Globemaster III and a mission change from tactical airlift to strategic airlift, this may be the last generation exercise of its kind here in Pittsburgh.

The historic event involved most of the base’s participation, but Wing Inspection Teams focused most of their evaluations and inspections on the 911th Operations and Maintenance personnel.

“The aircraft generation exercise provides a chance to evaluate and test operations and maintenance’s ability to generate all available aircraft, ensuring the planes are fully mission capable and able to go to war in a prescribed time frame,” said Lt. Col. Todd McCrann, Director of Inspections, 911th Airlift Wing Inspector General Inspections

The exercise was divided into two parts. The maintenance personnel were simulating being at home station with a simulated tasking for personnel and aircraft to be ready to deploy in under 72 hours. Maintenance personnel prepared all six aircraft for take-off and handed them over to the air crews. The operations personnel then were in a simulated deployed environment where they were to plan and execute different flying missions.

Operations personnel manned the six cargo aircraft, performing an “elephant walk” down the flight line as they prepared for take-off. The 911th Airlift Wing, has not had a large scale generation exercise since July 2007 when an eight-ship “elephant walk” formation was launched.

Once in air, five aircraft headed to Cadiz, Ohio to perform several low and high altitude drops. At the drop zone, 32nd Aerial Port Squadron members waited to recover the heavy equipment platforms and container deliver systems that drifted to the ground.

The sixth aircraft peeled off from the group toward Canada on a simulated aeromedical mission. All six aircraft then regrouped over Pittsburgh before heading back to the Pittsburgh IAP ARS for the final landing.

911th members from across the Wing joined together on the flight line to watch as the six- ship formation landed and taxied in together for the final time. Before the dust cleared and the exhaust smoke drifted away, the 758th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron finished the exercise with an engines running off-load of simulated patients from the final C-130.

An aircraft generation exercise is held at the 911th Airlift Wing once a year, however a six ship formation is rarely conducted during training.

It takes a lot of personnel to carry out an exercise with this many aircraft, said Lt. Col. Bryan Branby, Chief of Plans, Readiness and Exercises, 911th Airlift Wing Inspector General Readiness.

“Holding a large-scale exercise during a unit training assembly provides a great training opportunity to get everyone involved; it allows for good quality Air Force Specialty Code training for the vast majority of the base,” said Col. Branby.

The large exercise provided a training opportunity for maintainers, pilots, navigators, loadmasters, aerial porters, and personnel from intelligence, logistics readiness, munitions, aircrew flight equipment and various other career fields.

“The 911th IG Office under EXERCISE STEEL CHALLENGE 2016, tasked the 911th Operations Group, the 911th Maintenance Group, and other supporting units to fly training missions using all six flyable aircraft within 72 hours of notice using a CENTCOM Theater scenario,” said Col. Ken Frankenbery, Inspector General for the 911 AW. 


“They were to fly three separate missions: one a single-ship using the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS), a four-ship making conventional air drops, and a one-ship supporting an aeromedical training mission.  


“I would like to truly commend the men and women of the 911th Airlift Wing who accomplished this through their hard work, dedication, and team spirit!   I saw a lot of that spirit as I watched, inspected, and flew on the sixth C-130 flying the AE mission.

“This shows what CAN BE DONE with adhering to the Air Force Core Values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all We Do.  Congratulations 911th!!”


This is part one of a two-part series on Exercise Steel Challenge 16-01.