Crushing It: 48th FW breaks sortie record

by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

4/1/2016 – ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England — When the 48th Fighter Wing set out to fly more than 1,000 sorties during what was dubbed ‘Big March’, a total of 1,220 sorties were scheduled, in anticipation of flight cancellations due to bad weather.

But, the 48th FW exceeded expectations and flew a staggering 1,238 sorties, toppling the previous record of 938 sorties flown in August 2015.

Maintainers at the 48th FW pushed tool carts up to a mile and a half to the protective aircraft shelters and hangars where the jets and helicopters awaited them. Aircrew suited up and settled into their aircraft, ready for another day of flying. Utilizing only 20 days during the month of March, Liberty Airmen pushed their limits and surpassed records, launching more than 1,200 sorties.

“We crushed the record, but that wasn’t the goal,” stated Col. Scottie Zamzow, 48th Operations Group commander. “The goal was to sharpen the sword; stress the machine, so that when we were done, we were more combat ready than when we started.”

Airmen assigned to the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron perform final maintenance checks on 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagles at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, March 7, 2016. The 48th Fighter Wing flew a record-breaking 1,238 sorties during the month of March. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis)

Airmen assigned to the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron perform final maintenance checks on 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15C Eagles at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, March 7, 2016. The 48th Fighter Wing flew a record-breaking 1,238 sorties during the month of March. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis)

 The surge operations resulted in more than crushed records. March’s success directly impacted the wing’s capabilities, but required the determination of every Airman involved.

“The epitome of ‘Forward, Ready, Now’ is what we’ve just accomplished,” explained Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Stewart, 48th Maintenance Group superintendent.

“We’re talking about refueling 1,200 sorties; we’re talking about tracking 1,200 sorties,” Stewart continued, in regards to the increased workloads for the 48th Logistics Readiness Squadron and 48th Operations Support Squadron, respectively. “Airmen on the flightline, that may have turned a wrench five times on one specific job in six months, got to do it five times in one month because we were flying that many sorties.”

Stewart’s pride in the MXG’s ability to step up and achieve more than had been expected, shone through as he spoke of the great boost to morale that resulted from the sense of accomplishment the Airmen could now own, and how it improved communication and leadership skills. However, he also noted that those benefits were secondary. The primary focus was the combat readiness of the aircrew.

Every aircrew member is required to meet certain standards, but one young lieutenant’s accomplishment during the surge operations stuck out to Lt. Col. Connor Blackwood, 48th OG deputy commander. The lieutenant wanted to hone a tactical skill that would allow him to gain an advantage against enemy aircraft, and Blackwood had six sorties in two days to teach him.

“The first day he didn’t get it, but by the second day, about the second flight, it finally clicked and he was able to stay behind me and get in position to take the shot,” Blackwood recounted. “Something that would have taken six months to accomplish under normal training conditions took only two days. You bet, for that lieutenant, that meant everything! Now he is going to be a better Wingman.”

Blackwood remarked that the pilot’s goal didn’t have anything to do with a lofty desire to break a sortie record, but had been to realize his own capabilities and improve his ability to perform as a pilot.

Broken records were a side note compared to the accomplishments across the groups involved in sortie operations according the MXG and OG leadership.

“We are all Liberty Airmen,” Zamzow said. “Whether you’re an aviator, a controller in the tower, a maintainer or a refueler, we love to fly aircraft, we love to fix aircraft, we love to control aircraft, and we love to fuel aircraft. You let us do our primary job, and we’re going to love it, and we’re going to have a good time.”

The results of Big March mean one thing: the Liberty Wing is postured to do anything, anywhere in the world. ‘Forward, Ready, Now’. It was just another day at RAF Lakenheath.

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