JBER’s commitment with international partners enables aircraft recovery

  • Published
  • By Maria Galvez
  • 673d ABW/PA

Imagine you’re a pilot flying back from a six-month-long deployment, it’s the holiday season, and all you want to do is get home. All of a sudden, you hear a strange noise inside the cockpit.

You feel the aircraft fighting you and a feeling of dread hits you in the pit of your stomach – you know something is wrong. But you’ve trained for this exact moment; you can handle this.

That’s what happened to an F-22 Raptor pilot assigned to the 90th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron on the late afternoon of Dec. 13, 2022.

Six F-22s assigned to the 90th EFS were on their way home to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from Lask Air Force Base, Poland, where they had supported the NATO Air Shielding mission, when suddenly, one of the Raptors had an engine malfunction, causing it to make an emergency landing at Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport, Canada last year.

A second F-22 was diverted to provide mutual support and assistance - there was no way they were leaving a wingman behind.

That evening, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Fuccillo, the director of operations for the 517th Airlift Squadron, received an alert that a 3rd Wing asset was diverted to Whitehorse and was in need of short-notice maintenance and security requirements that couldn’t be fulfilled by commercial aircraft capacity in a timely manner.

This led to the rapid deployment of a crew that was within four hours of crew rest and already had a training mission the next morning.

Members of the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 517th AS, 673d Security Forces Squadron, and the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing, all based out of JBER, came together to bring the personnel and aircraft home.

“I delegated tactical level planning to the aircrew scheduled against them and told them to identify limiting factors,” said Fuccillo.

"Once notified of the aircraft divert, we immediately spun up a ‘Fly Away Security Team’ and began coordination with the 3rd Wing for airflow and logistics,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Kennedy, the 673rd SFS commander. “The defenders were prepped with the necessary cold weather and mobility gear and ready to deploy within the hour.”

A C-12 Huron and a crew assigned to the 517th AS, were the first to arrive in Whitehorse on Dec. 14 and were able to start the positioning and recovery efforts within 16 hours of the notification.

“We conducted Agile Combat Employment as it was conceived due in part to the Air Mobility Command commander’s vision that it is an effect, not an operation, and my belief is that ACE is a mindset,” Fuccillo added.

On Dec. 15, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III, also assigned to the 517th AS, delivered maintenance equipment, the maintenance response team, extra security personnel from the 673d SFS, and replacement pilots to facilitate the retrieval of the two Raptor jets.

“I received word that the F-22s had recovered to JBER on the evening of Dec. 20,” said Fuccillo. “Maintenance was arranging the transfer of equipment back to JBER but the [advance] team didn't have commercial transportation and due to weather, it appeared there were no commercial aircraft available to get them home in time for Christmas.”

Due to scheduled missions, there was no guarantee the remainder of the crew would be retrieved on the 21st or 22nd of December either. The situation grew dire, as the 23rd was a scheduled family day, but the home station was determined to get the remaining crew members home.

“If all else failed, we were willing to generate iron on the family day to ensure the crew made it back in time for the holidays,” said Fuccillo.

Thankfully, the mission changed at the last minute.

“On the morning of December 21st, I received word from the crew that the [Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center] mission wasn’t validated and therefore canceled for the day,” said Fuccillo. “They had already completed about 80% of the mission planning necessary to go out to Whitehorse and retrieve the remaining ADVON team.”

With coordination already established between the 3rd Operations Group and the 3rd Maintenance Group, the crew got in touch with the chalk leader to arrange pickup specifics.

“From flash to bang it was less than an hour to get everyone synchronized, and the crew departed on their original takeoff time despite the mission change at show time,” he said.

The recovery crew arrived safely to JBER that same night.

Air Force pilots go through rigorous training to handle situations like what happened at Whitehorse if they occur, as do maintenance personnel. It is important for them to be as comfortable in an emergency situation as they are in a normal one, so they constantly train.

“I am very proud of the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron members who jumped at the chance to repair our aircraft in an austere location without advance notice,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Timothy Doster, 3rd AMXS commander. “I appreciate the great collaboration we had with the 176th Wing which helped us with the logistics of delivering people and equipment to Whitehorse quickly.”

It takes a true joint effort to handle situations that arise like the recovery efforts of this F-22 Raptor and the crew. Ultimate mission and vision success are what Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson strives for and the mission partnerships across the installation and abroad are what makes that happen.