24 hours at Mission Control
The Mission Control branch - or short: Micon - is the EATC's ops center of all running flight movements. The team of Micon always has an eye on what becomes necessary in case of unforeseen events.
To achieve an overview of all flight activities soldiers work in a huge open-plan office, communicate with the aircrews, exchange information with enhanced software (MEAT) and monitor all flight movements. The head of Mission Control is the Shift Leader, normally an experienced senior officer who generally manages the whole team and orchestrates all necessary steps to achieve a successful mission execution. A Flight Controller monitors all flight-related topics , e.g. load limitations, flying duty times and other issues. Moreover, the Flight Dispatcher is part of the team. His job is to create routings and to make sure that diplomatic clearances are granted. In case of unforeseen events or short term ATRs, the personnel at Mission Control is capable to take all necessary steps. You will see in the illustrated examples below that Micon truly executes OPCON on a word-wide scale and all around the clock…
Follow us on a trip around this planet
Termez/Uzbekistan, 1:00 local
It’s one o’clock local at this German logistic hub, not far away from the border to Afghanistan. Airport lights illuminate the German air transport hub, where a German Airbus A310 MRTT waits for patients who have been flown in with a C-160 ESS Transall aircraft from Mazar-e Sharif just a few moments ago. The injured soldiers had a traffic accident and are now transported back to the Netherlands by the German Airbus A310.
The Airbus A310 MRTT with its MedEvac-kit is often called a “flying hospital” because it is surely one of the most advanced aircraft world-wide with regard to Aeromedical Evacuation. With the help of the AECC – the Aeromedical Evacuation Control Center which consists of four flight surgeons and three flight assistants (flight nurses) – an evacuation mission is set up immediately after the AECC has chosen the appropriate aircraft. In order to save time and to carry out the AeroMedEvac mission as quickly as possible, the AECC communicates directly with Mission Control who are only a few steps away inside the same building.
Paphos/Cyprus, 2:00 local
The Cypriot airport of Paphos is the place where spare parts for the German UNIFIL contingent are delivered by a German C-160D Transall from the German Air Transport Wing 61. The soldiers must be flexible whenever a transport ship is "coming in," because the German ships and boats heading for the port of Limassol, just 50 kilometers away, only have a short time window at the quay. They are lucky: The Transall unloaded its cargo hours before at its stopover in Pristina. With this loss of load the aircraft became much lighter and faster… and is therefore 20 minutes earlier in Paphos than expected. Nevertheless, the soldiers always keep an eye on their watch, because if they are a few minutes too late, the vessel may be back at sea again - without the scheduled cargo on board…
Adana/Turkey, 4:30 local
Near dawn, a Dutch C-130 Hercules is taxiing to the parking position at Incirlik Air Base near the Turkish town of Adana. Here the Dutch Missile Defense contingent is stationed since January 2013 in order to protect Turkish airspace. The Hercules H30 is a stretched version and therefore can carry more passengers and/or cargo. In this case, the Hercules will transport an unarmed Dutch vehicle and Dutch soldiers to Eindhoven Air Base and then perform a short mission to Wunstorf Air Base to redeploy German soldiers: the German Missile Defense contingent is stationed about 100 kilometers away from Incirlik Air Base in a town called Kahramanmaras, close to the Syrian border.
At the nearby coast town of Limassol, it is not surprising that a crane is employed even during the night to load the frigate at the port where the UNIFIL harbor is located. Soldiers of the German Air Force and Navy handle the goods to load the frigate within a few hours – before it raises its anchor at 6 a.m. with the uprising morning sun.
Meanwhile, the Transall has left Paphos and is now on its way to the final destination Hohn in northern Germany, where the Air Transport Wing 63 (ATW 63) is located and where the aircraft is scheduled again for another mission the next day. But before - on the way back - the Transall C-160D will make a small stop at Decimomannu (Sardinia) to take up mechanical parts to be delivered to the ATW 61’s home base in Bavarian Landsberg/Penzing.
In a few seconds, a Belgian C-130H is going to launch from a French military base that is part of Libreville Airport.
Six days ago, the Belgian C-130 started its “Africa tour” with destinations from Evreux to Djibouti, Victoria (Seychelles), Kinshasa, Libreville, Abidjan, Dakar and finally Orléans.
“We left Melsbroek with two German pallets,” explains Belgian Lieutenant Colonel Gerd Finck, “and loaded two French pallets in Evreux. In Djibouti, the French and German pallets were exchanged for return freight; in Victoria, we picked up a pallet of special Belgian cargo. Here in Libreville, the French Armed Forces will add two more pallets; a third French pallet and some loose Belgian cargo (dangerous goods) will be loaded in Abidjan. Although we are already at the maximum capacity of six pallets, we managed to add even more items at our final stop in Dakar, bringing our total take-off weight to 155,000 lbs, the maximum allowed. Out of our flying time of some 44 hours, the cargo bay was and will not be empty for a single minute.”
Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, 8:00
Crossing the North Atlantic is not a small trip and there are always benefits to combining cargo and passengers from different nations on the same flight. For that reason, a French Airbus A310 took off yesterday from Melsbroek Air Base, Brussels, carrying 55 German soldiers travelling west to Halifax, Canada, and 35 Belgian soldiers travelling to MacGuire, NC, USA. The aircraft will then pick up 20 Dutch soldiers before it finally heads towards the Caribbean Sea, or more precisely to Fort-de-France - which is the capital of France's Caribbean overseas department of Martinique, an island belonging to the French West Indies - bringing back a second contingent of 155 French soldiers from an exercise together with some partload the soldiers used while their exercise abroad. So much for the plan…
But unfortunately the Airbus will not turn first to Eindhoven – just as planned. Instead the A310 will directly head for the nearer Creil Air Base, where the “Esterel” squadron is nationally stationed: When they crossed the North Sea, the cockpit crew detected a warning sign indicating that the hydraulic system might be malfunctioning. After consultation with the MSCN maintenance controller, the decision is made by the MSCN shift leader that the aircraft will first land in France, while the same time Mission Control develops a plan how to cope with the Dutch personnel that needs to be redeployed to Eindhoven Air Base.
Now it is EATC Mission Controls turn, where the shift leader is always ready to respond to immediate requests such as changing routings or setting up immediate actions in order to evacuate military patients from anywhere in the world. For this purpose a number of aircraft is on short notice standby (so called “alert list”). These flights will be fully prepared on ad hoc-basis and controlled by the Mission Control team. Fortunately the now reported incident is not a “big case” – and MSCN with all his either experience but also routine will recommend very soon an alternative plan to cope with the new situation. MSNC therefore always has an eye on MEAT (Management of European Air Transport), a computer programme specifically designed for EATC. In MEAT requesting agencies enter their transport requirements, which will be assigned to assets from executing agencies (squadrons) by the EATC. Every relevant detail of a flight is covered by this system - and all players are therewith fully aware of their tasks and duties. The system delivers any data: how many aircraft are flying right now? Where are vacant alternatives? How many crews are available? What is the maintenance status of the aircraft?...
Somewhere around the Northern German coastline, 8:15
Few minutes later they also have a “plan b” for the given situation: with the help of the MEAT software Mission Control finds out immediately that there is a C-160 ESS Transall right now on its way from Germany to northern France. The German aircraft is about to deploy a German Special Ops contingent together with their equipment in order to join a multinational exercise in France. After having dropped this parachuters, they originally would have turned back with another contingent of paratroopers to their home base in Northern Germany, the EATC assigned Air Transport Wing 63.
But for the fact, that Eindhoven lies near to their original flight path, the decision is now made by the MSCN shift leader, that the Transall will make a small turn over to Dutch Eindhoven to end the assignment of the Dutch soldiers even today, before the aircraft turns back to Hohn, a small town not far away from the Danish border…
Somewhere else on this planet, a similar aircraft, the French Transall C-160NG “dives” into the sand of a remote African airstrip. Built during the Cold War for tactical air transport, the Transall features remarkable short landing capabilities. The aircraft has flown to Congo in order to supply Belgian soldiers assigned to the largest UN mission called MONUSCO (Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en République Démocratique du Congo). Since the French EATC-assigned bases are closer to the Congo than the Belgian C-130 base at Melsbroek/Brussels and additional French soldiers can afterwards be flown to the Ivory Coast, the French Transall was chosen for this EATC mission. Moreover, the aircraft will supply the Belgian contingent with goods that are sometimes not easy to provide in Central Africa: fresh food.
It is raining at the small town of Wahnheide, where the military part of Cologne airport is located. The scenery surely fits the mood of some soldiers, because the troops climbing up the stairway face four to six months on a mission abroad.
Soldiers often call the Airbus A310 PAX the “Afghanistan Shuttle” since the aircraft normally flies twice a week from Cologne to Termez/Uzbekistan to support the German contingent which consists of about 4.000 soldiers at the time being. Every Tuesday and Saturday, the Airbus crosses the skies over Germany, and it often carries personnel from other nations’ armed forces as well. In order to avoid parallel flights, the Belgian Airbus A330 for example usually does not take the same route, because it may not get a diplo clearance for Uzbekistan. The most efficient approach is therefore the following: Belgian soldiers travel by train or bus to the German Special Air Mission Wing MoD at Cologne and check in together with their German comrades to fly with this Airbus.
Noon, somewhere near the coastline of India
The Belgian Dassault Falcon DA-900 is a far reaching VIP aircraft of the EATC – and it is used by all EATC Participating Nations. This time, the aircraft crew is on an enormous tour: Having stopped at Dubai and Male for fuel, the aircraft is now over the Indian Ocean, heading towards Australia with its small delegation onboard. After landing at several locations on the fifth continent (Sydney, Canberra, Darwin, Newcastle), the reliable aircraft will return via the same route. However, this trip is the exception to the rule: Most of the time, the EATC assigned VIP aircrafts travel the skies above the European borders – with Belgian Dassault Falcon 20, Embraer 135 or Embraer 145.
Nevertheless: Some guests and delegations are still surprised to find out that their next shuttle is not the expected national one, but rather a Belgian executive jet …
Near Istres/France, 13:30
The Airbus A340 is probably the largest aircraft of the EATC. It is normally used for strategic transport to distant locations. Therefore, it was employed to evacuate people during the Fukushima disaster. Serving now as a troop transporter, it is on its way to Africa to support the French Forces within the deployment of soldiers.
The Airbus A340 of EATC assigned Esterel Squadron is originally stationed at Creil Air Base. The aircraft took off this morning towards Paris “Charles der Gaulle” - airport in order to pick up 35 soldiers and their equipment. Flying over to southern French Istres, now another 180 soldiers and 5 tons of additional freight (e.g. humanitarian cargo) were taken on board, before the aircraft headed towards its final destination Bangui, Central Africa, a country delivered to a generalized insecurity and threatened of a civil war.
The German Airbus A310 has just arrived at Djibouti for an unexpected additional rescue mission: The aircraft flew over the Black Sea when a call was received by the EATC’s Aeromedical Evacuation Control Center (AECC) that two German civilians immediately had to be flown out of Djibouti. The shift leader at MSCN responded promptly and, after consulting briefly with the AECC, directed the Airbus to take a southwestern course.
Three hours later, the two German patients who suffer from severe poisoning are brought onboard. Both belong to the German embassy in Djibouti and may have eaten the wrong food. The further transport has meanwhile been arranged by the AECC: an additional civilian rescue crew will pick up the patients with their ambulance at Cologne Airport. Since the two civilians are seriously ill, the AECC surgeons decided to make use of this opportunity - and not to start a new mission with another aircraft: for time is simply running out.
Yesterday, a Dutch DC-10 transport aircraft on a support mission for the French-led Operation Serval in Mali took off from Eindhoven Air Base. Actually the DC-10 also has German soldiers onboard who were picked up during a short stop at Frankfurt Airport. Before reaching its final destination at Dakar, where the German Air Force has established a logistic hub on a French Air Base, the DC-10 stopped eventually in France to pick up supplies. Due to the security situation in Mali, the Dutch government had decided to initially limit operations to the neighboring countries of Mali. Meanwhile, the situation has improved, and so the aircraft will now fly on to Bamako, the capital of Mali. The Germans on board are engineer troops who are charged with training Mali’s army in the framework of the EUTM (European Training Mission MALI).
Same time, somewhere over the Mediterranean Sea
The Dutch KDC-10 is a Multi Role Transport Tanker, better known by the abbreviation MRTT. With the specific equipment on board, the aircraft is also able to supply fuel, to carry on cargo and/or personnel. The aircraft can cover a distance of nearly 10.000 kilometers, can take up nearly 65 tons of freight or 265 passengers. In a combined PAX mission - with additional freight on board - the aircraft will transport up to 165 passengers.
Whenever the Dutch Air Force (RNLAF) exchanges its F-16 at ISAF, the KDC-10 accompanies the fighter aircraft to supply them with fuel on their long journey to Mazar-e Sharif.
Of course the tanker aircraft is not bound solely to Dutch F-16. The KDC-10 could also supply Belgian F-16 which are being based at Kandahar - or any other aircraft that complies with the KDC-10 system for fuel-delivery (boom).
In a few days the KDC-10 will return with the F-16 - right now waiting at “Mazar,” to be attended back on their way to the Netherlands.
The rear door is opened and the red helmet of a paratrooper appears. Soon, French paratroopers will fall out of the sky …
“Volfa” is a series of exercises in combined air operations (COMAO) as well as in combat search and rescue (CSAR). As an exception, it has been integrated into the “Colibri” exercise, a training event that takes place regularly and focuses on paratrooping and cargo drops - with also involvement of the EATC Functional Division, because crossnational paradropping is a field of expertise within the Functional Divisions EMPL (employment ) branch.
The goal of “Colibri” is to promote interoperability among the units of various nations in peacekeeping and non-combatant evacuation operations. The EATC accomplishes a lot of the planning, liaison and administration work to keep the exercise running, besides providing the assets required to ensure interoperability of the different aircraft, crews and methods of paratrooping itself. Several hundred soldiers take part in the exercise; French, British, German and Belgian troopers will jump off the aircrafts in order to find out the differences to their various national airdrop procedures. At the same time, the EATC Functional Division monitors all those activities in order to better harmonize cross-functional paradropping procedures and to support a future common understanding and leadership.
Somewhere over Belgium, 17:00
Small country, large aircraft. The Airbus A330 is in fact the largest aircraft the Belgian “Luchtcomponent” operated in its national AT-fleet. Leased for the amount of 2.000 flying hours per year, the Airbus normally flies for a civilian airline. Nevertheless, the other EATC Participating Nations, too, can use the aircraft for strategic transport. This time the mission is rather unusual: there are only few Belgian soldiers onboard. Instead, the Airbus A330 - originally stationed at Belgian 15 AT Wing/Melsbroek Air Base - is back from a relief mission to the Philippines, aftermath of the terrible Hurricane Hayian.
Onboard was a civil Belgian First Aid and Support Team ("B-fast") with 70 assistants, 12 French firefighters and 2 assistants from Luxembourg. The Belgian members had built up before a field hospital (AMP/Advanced medical post) by using the 40 tons of goods that were onboard of the aircraft.
Kossei Air Base/Chad, 20:30
France still maintains military influence in Africa and stations thousands of its troops across the continent, from western Senegal to the Horn of Africa. Especially in Chad, France has deployed hundreds of troops to protect French nationals, support the government and provide logistic support to Chadian and French forces. To achieve this goal, an aircraft is required that fulfills many purposes. The C-130H Hercules is such an aircraft, able to cover long distances and also to land on short airstrips. This crew belongs to squadron 02.061 “Franche-Comte” at Orléans Air Base and trains special operations under real conditions. When the aircraft is up in the air, it will look out for a Transall C-160 NG - a Transall tanker version. With the full moon risen the Hercules will look out to find its “rendevouz-partner”. When the air-to-air refuelling is done, it will set the paratroopers free and return to its base – quite before midnight.
The MRTT is back in Germany. Having started at 6 a.m. in Termez and delivered the first patients to Eindhoven Air Base, the aircraft headed back to Germany to finally reach Cologne Airport - with the two German civilians onboard they picked up in Djibouti.
While injured soldiers would normally been brought to the German Armed Forces hospital in Koblenz, civilians are transferred to the nearest available hospital in Cologne. In this case, the costs of the medical treatment as well as of the transportation are borne by the German Armed Forces - as a service for the benefit of the patients: Every member of the government who is on duty abroad - no matter of soldier, engineer or nurse - will be brought back in case of a medical emergency situation - organized by soldiers of the AECC and monitored by Mission Control.
Back in Eindhoven - Mission Control never sleeps
24 hours after the beginning of this - virtual - story, which nevertheless builds up on many true missions - we are returning to Mission Control. A new shift has begun, though the people at the “Ops” remain the same.
On a normal day, Mission Control monitors 50 to 70 flights around the clock. As usual, the events of the past 24 hours have rarely been single routine activities; instead, most of the EATC missions are arranged as one combination of single sorties to achieve higher efficiency. As a result, many missions are unique - and are monitored accordingly: always, and wherever they may be, under the vigilant eye of Mission Control at Eindhoven Air Base.
Words: Norbert Thomas
Many thanks to all the photographers of our participating air force media - making this project completable