BEJA, PORTUGAL --
The night skies of Beja, Portugal are full of stars, but they have company.
Pilots deployed from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia flew night training missions in two C-130H3 Hercules aircraft during Exercise Real Thaw 2019 at Beja Air Base, Portugal, Oct. 2, 2019.
RT19 is a Portuguese-led large joint and combined force exercise held annually where Dobbins provided aerial support.
Part of the highly realistic training included daytime and nighttime operations. The mission for this night exercise was to transport two Portuguese M-11D Light Reconnaissance Vehicles from Beja Air Base, Portugal, to a dirt landing zone in a simulated combat zone.
“Real Thaw gives us a better understanding of how our allies work and how we work with our allies, especially overcoming any language barriers,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Dyson, a 700th Airlift Squadron navigator and member of the RT19 mission planning cell. “This particular mission helped us find assault dirt strips at night and was great practice for all crew members involved.”
As a navigator and mission planner, Dyson helped create a route for the mission that would be the most efficient while keeping to strict airspace boundaries and ensuring that the crew get to their destination at the appropriate time, while keeping clear of terrain and simulated enemy forces.
“They’re flying at night because in some of the night flights we know that we can have more cover and concealment,” said Maj. Kerry Lyon, Deputy Chief of Wing Intelligence for the 94th Operation Support Squadron. “Some other pilots are not well versed in night flying and some of the ways that they find us is through visual observations. It gives us a way to mask ourselves in the night by flying under cover and taking advantage of light discipline.”
Pilots have many hours of training that they have to complete annually, but night flying operations are one of the few chances they get to utilize their night vision goggles.
“Flying at night is very different than flying during the day,” said Senior Airman Trevor Armentrout, a Loadmaster from the 700th Airlift Squadron. “A lot of things that you would be able to see during the day cannot be seen from the plane at night. This is why we use NVG’s, but even with them on it does not make it as clear as day all of the time. It all depends on the cultural lighting and natural lighting, like from the moon.”
While lighting was one obstacle of the mission, the dirt landing zone was another. It accurately simulates what the pilots would come across in a deployed scenario and prepares them for short landings and short takeoffs.
“The C-130 has the capabilities to land in fields that a lot of other cargo planes can’t,” said Armentrout. “This gives us the opportunity to get ground vehicles where they need to be by air. It is very beneficial for us to be able to transport vehicles.”
After completing the night mission, the aircraft returned to base safely. With the mission complete and the exercise coming to a close, Dobbins Reserve citizen Airmen prepared to depart Portugal.
“Opportunities like Real Thaw help us do things that are outside of our comfort level, meet new people who are also critical allies and be challenged in new ways to enhance our skills,” said Dyson. “These exercises are invaluable to any military member, nonetheless, a traditional reservist. We can take these challenges that we’ve overcome and bring this new outlook into our civilian careers as well.”