Flight managers from the 618th Air Operations Center, or Tanker Airlift Control Center, at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, are now able to participate in ‘ride-along’ flights on mobility aircraft to observe firsthand how pilots and aircrew conduct operations in the sky.
On June 1, the first ride-along took place on a regularly scheduled sortie, flying two flight managers in a C-17 Globemaster III from Travis AFB, California, to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. They returned to Travis AFB with another C-17 aircrew June 5.
The program’s goal is to create a feedback loop and a shared perspective to help improve collaboration between flight managers and aircrew, while also streamlining operations and improving mission effectiveness.
Throughout a scheduled mission, volunteer flight managers will join aircrew for multiple flights, observing the crew in action and discussing any challenges or required updates to the flight plan and mission. Less experienced flight managers will be able to pair with managers who have previous aircrew experience to encourage further learning and communication.
“We hope this will be a valuable experience for both flight managers and aircrew alike, so they can better understand how the other operates in a continually changing environment and how the decisions each make impact the other,” said Lt Col Reed Martin, Chief of the 618th AOC’s Flight Management Division.
TACC flight managers receive extensive training, including Federal Aviation Administration certification as aircraft dispatchers. They develop comprehensive flight and mission plans for the pilot and aircrew, organizing multiple global missions simultaneously.
Flight managers factor in airspeeds, weather, routing, altitude selection, divert coordination, fuel and cargo loading, aviation notices, and more—utilizing numerous software applications and technologies to develop the crew papers, file the flight plan, and deliver them electronically to the aircrew prior to takeoff. Once in the air, flight managers are also responsible for following the flight, alerting the crew to developing weather or hazardous conditions, and providing divert support if needed.
“It takes us a few hours to completely gather all data and build a mission from scratch, so it was great to see firsthand the results of our work and the utility of the crew papers,” said Jason Funderburk, one of the first flight managers to participate in the program.
Ultimately, the program’s aim is to optimize mission execution and increase capability. According to Roberto Guerrero, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Air Force Operational Energy, whose office is funding the effort, focus groups with Airmen identified some communication gaps between pilots and flight planners that were inhibiting collaboration and more efficient flying.
“Alongside other energy-informed initiatives, we hope these ride-alongs will lead to more precise fuel planning and information sharing,” said Guerrero. “This is just one of the ways we’re helping the Air Force become more capable while providing Airmen with the training and tools they need to complete the mission.”