JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, NJ –
On the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., flightline, it's a familiar sight to see aircrew on a KC-10 Extender preparing themselves and their aircraft for a mission. Planes take off and land every day like clockwork, and one program, in particular, equips the crew with specialized training for the KC-10, ensuring overall mission success.
The 305th Operations Support Squadron's Formal Training Unit provides instruction to new pilots, flight engineers and boom operators to help them become proficient and qualified on the KC-10.
"It is important because it enables us to standardize practices throughout the KC-10 fleet," Maj Thomas C. deCiutiis, the 305th OSS FTU deputy chief and instructor pilot. "Everyone learns to operate the KC-10 the same way so that everyone is aware of what actions should be happening during any phase of flight. You can think of it like a waltz where you may step on your partner's feet, but because they know the dance too they can help you recover, which helps keep us safe and enables us to do complex missions."
The FTU is an additional training program that members of a future KC-10 aircrew take to hone their skills. Students who attend already have flight hours and initial training underneath their belt, which means instructors can focus on perfecting students' performance.
As an instructor pilot, deCiutiis works with flight engineer and boom operator instructors to ensure that during a training mission, students receive proper guidance and get what they need from a day of training.
"I am always trying to optimize the crew's training and my fellow flight engineer and boom operator instructors are giving me feedback so that all of our students can excel," deCiutiis said. "Making sure everyone is focused and ready to execute the mission is also my responsibility."
Safety is the number one priority during the operation of aircraft. For this matter, instructors have the added responsibility of keeping track of everyone's mental and physical health before departing and remaining vigilant during the entirety of a flight.
"At the FTU we are pretty much always in what we call a critical phase of flight, i.e. doing something close to the ground or another aircraft," deCiutiis said. "Everyone needs to be alert and ready to take any and all appropriate actions to avoid making a bad situation worse if something were to go wrong. So it is important to know if someone did not sleep well or has a personal issue going on that is going to prevent us from safely executing the mission."
With the arrival of the KC-46 Pegasus expected in November of this year, Joint Base MDL was scheduled to phase out the program within the next few months. Recently, a new mission brought the FTU to an abrupt halt sooner than planned.
"The operations to help evacuate US citizens, allies, and Afghanis from Afghanistan forced us to close early so that we could put our most senior flyers at the heart of this operation," deCiutiis said. "I am sad to see the end of the KC-10 era, but am happy I could be a part of this great community and teach the last of the [First Assignment Ten] guys and girls at McGuire."
All remaining 305th OSS FTU students transferred to Travis Air Force Base, C.A. to complete their training. The KC-46 FTU will be at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
"As with all training missions, the time comes when training is over and it's time to hack the mission," deCiutiis said. "That time came quicker than expected for the cadre of the FTU, but we are happy to answer our nation's call and get back to doing what we love, which is flying and helping to project power across the globe."