Sharks fly with shuttle on return trip

  • Published
  • By By Lt. Col. Michael Tillema
  • Detachment 3 commander
Nine 45th Operations Group personnel led the Department of Defense charge supporting NASA and helped bring the Space Shuttle Endeavour back to Kennedy Space center during the recent ferry flight of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) and the Shuttle.

Detachment 3 is the only unit in the Air Force that coordinates ferry flight operations at DoD airfields across the U.S. That support includes security, transportation, billeting, fuel, public affairs, and airfield support equipment for two aircraft and up to 50 personnel. From Det. 3, Lt. Col. Dave Impiccini led the team with Lt. Col. Robert Lindsay, Lt. Col. Tom Lombardi, Maj. Tom Cross and Mr. Mike Skaggs. Mr. Skaggs provided critical logistics expertise due to the unusually large cargo on board the C-17 Pathfinder, which is also used to carry the NASA support personnel and provide advance weather reporting en route. Additionally, the 45th Weather Squadron provided critical weather support for all 24 potential en route bases. From the 45th WS were Staff Sgt. Dan Kern, Kathy Winters, Mike McAleenan and Todd McNamara, who provided continuous support throughout the mission from the Range Weather Operations Center at Cape Canaveral AFS.

The route from Edwards AFB to KSC required two overnight stops and the subsequent
loading and offloading of the equipment. After NASA prepared the orbiter for transport
and waited for an acceptable weather window, the team was able to depart. After a refueling stopover at Biggs Army Airfield in El Paso, Texas, the flight continued to Fort Worth Naval Air Station, Texas. After 45th WS personnel forecasted good weather at KSC, the flight departed for Barksdale AFB, La. Based on those forecasts, the route of flight kept the SCA and orbiter just behind a very hazardous weather system that was crossing the central United States. This system caused 39 tornadoes, 28 hailstorms and more than 140 high wind events throughout the southeast U.S., including 45 mph of wind at KSC the day before. 

Col. Bernie Gruber, 45th Operations Group commander, stated, "this is the perfect example of superb teamwork for a complex interagency operation; I'm amazed, but not surprised, how well the entire ferry flight process came together."