By Master Sgt. James Branch, 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 16, 2016
Alberta, Canada --
More than 70 Airmen from the 94th Airlift Wing took part in Maple Flag 49, an international air exercise held annually at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, Canada, May 30 through June 10.
Each year, allied forces from around the world seeking to prepare their service members for tactical global operations, come together for two weeks of air-to-air, air-to-surface and close air support operations in a simulated combat environment.
Participating for the third time, the wing sought to invest its resources into its future fighting force.
Lt. Col. Thomas Moffatt, 700th Airlift Squadron director of operations and 94th AW Maple Flag mission commander, designed a detailed plan to meet that objective.
“Our objective is to provide Air Force Reserve Command with combat ready aircrew members,” said Moffatt. “A unique way we approach Maple Flag is that we put our up and coming pilots in positions of authority. They serve as aircraft commanders. The more experienced aircrew members serve as planners and mentors, providing guidance to the less experienced. This helps us to develop skilled tactical warfighters.”
From the aircraft commanders, co-pilots, planning cells, maintenance personnel, squadron aviation resource manager, aircrew life support and first sergeant, all first-time exercise attendees took advantage of the experience passed on from veteran Maple Flag participants.
“The unique thing about Maple Flag is that it offers us control of our scenarios, so we can give our aircrews the training they need,” said Capt. Jamie Atkinson, 700th AS C-130 Hercules pilot and aircraft commander. “It allowed us to work with different weapon systems, as well as air and ground forces from different countries.”
“From a planner's perspective, the challenge was learning how to integrate these different weapon systems and tactics while being able to put together an effective mission plan,” he added. “For the aircrews flying the missions, we had to make sure we were meeting our objectives, while flying in an environment that was always changing due to enemy threats, weather or other sources.”
Since their first Maple Flag exercise in 2013, 94th AW members have taken the opportunity to participate whenever their schedule allows.
“The timeline for this annual exercise works great for us because it gives us a year on to participate, and a year off to fulfill our deployment obligation,” said Moffatt. “It’s a win for both the 94th AW and AFRC.”
Although Maple Flag 47 in 2014 was a big operation for AFRC with eight C-130 aircraft participating from various wings, there are significant changes this year for Maple Flag 49.
According to Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Vuri Mokievsky-Zubok, Maple Flag deputy lead planner, exercise 47 was reduced due to real world commitments. The normal NATO fighter aircraft did not participate, reducing the scenarios to transport aircraft only.
This year, Canadian, French, German and Belgium fighter aircraft were present.
Tactical aircraft participation included air-to-air refueling aircraft, airborne warning and control systems, long-range patrol aircraft, tactical helicopters and C-130 aircraft from the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.
“We had a record number of participants this year,” said Mokievsky-Zubok. “We hope to get even more for Maple Flag 50.”
Aircrews from the 94th AW flew two rotations per day, one four-ship formation in the morning, teaming up with members of the Kentucky Air National Guard, and a two-ship formation in the afternoon, from the Edmonton International Airport in Alberta.
Early morning missions were comprised of paratrooper and equipment airdrops, then it was off to the 4,478-square-mile air weapons range at the Air Force Tactical Training Center in Cold Lake.
“The range was very challenging,” said Atkinson. “It gave us the opportunity to fully employ our tactics in a low-level training environment. On our local low-level routes at home station, we have restrictions on how low we can fly due to the populated areas in Atlanta. We were able to fly a true low-level while in the range at Cold Lake.”
According to the squadron aviation resource manager, aircrews logged 101 flying hours and performed 54 sorties, in simulated combat missions.
“This is by far the best training exercise I’ve ever experienced,” said Atkinson. “A lot a real-world training was provided with each mission flown.”