Air Force World

Dec. 1, 2011

Back in the Air (Again)

F-22 Raptors at JB Langley-Eustis, Va., and JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, were briefly grounded for a second time this year, following the fleet’s return to the skies in September after a lengthy down period.

Two pilots from Langley’s 1st Fighter Wing reported suffering hypoxia-like symptoms on a training sortie from Langley, Oct. 20. F-22s at both Langley and Elmendorf were temporarily grounded while the reports were investigated, as a precautionary measure.

Alaskan Raptors resumed flight operations four days later, followed by the Virginia-based aircraft Oct. 25. Langley fighters were immediately flying the “same number of sorties as before the brief pause,” said a spokeswoman. The 1st FW commander “continues to closely monitor operations,” she added.

Service officials had yet to identify the cause of the F-22’s oxygen issues, but allowed flying to resume in September under enhanced safety and monitoring measures.

Airless National Guard

House legislators expressed concern that belt-tightening measures under consideration by the Air Force may seriously threaten the Air National Guard.

Representatives cited their concern about possible elimination of the Guard’s C-5A fleet, divestment of three F-16 wings, and reduction of the C-130 force by some 76 airframes, in addition to A-10 cuts and even termination of C-27J acquisitions.

Pressed on the consequences of such cuts, Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, Air National Guard director, said it is “too early in the budgeting process to reach any conclusion as to what may or may not survive.”

However, he added sternly, “if those platforms were removed, … in essence, … you would have the air being taken out of the Air National Guard.”

Softening his remarks only slightly, he noted that theoretically the Air Guard could be fundamentally reoriented to assume missions such as cyber, engineering, communications, and security forces, as well as participate more heavily in remotely piloted aircraft operations.

Silver Star for Combat Controller

TSgt. Ismael Villegas was awarded the Silver Star medal for gallantry in action in Afghanistan.

Villegas was the lone combat controller assigned to an Army Special Forces team charged with clearing a road of improvised explosive devices near Bagh Khosak in September 2009.

After insurgents ambushed the team, Villegas, who was assigned at the time to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, N.C., ran 200 feet across an exposed mine field to return fire while directing close air support from a better vantage point.

He directed “precision firepower from artillery, as well as fixed- and rotary-wing assets” that resulted in 32 insurgents killed during the 16-hour firefight and saving the lives of his teammates, according to Air Force Special Operations Command officials.

Villegas accepted the Silver Star, saying the medal was for his comrades. “They put their lives on the line each day. I’m taking this on behalf of all of those guys out there,” he said, after Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz pinned the medal on him Oct. 27.

Last B53 Nuclear Bomb Dismantled

Workers at the Pantex weapons plant in Amarillo, Tex., dismantled the final B53 nuclear bomb in the US inventory under the watchful eye of National Nuclear Security Administration officials Oct. 25.

Last October, NNSA announced plans to dismantle the US arsenal of B53 nuclear free-fall weapons, which were retired in 1997.

Designed to be carried by Strategic Air Command’s B-47, B-52, and B-58 bombers, each B53 was roughly 10,000 pounds and the size of a minivan.

Each B53 had a reported nine-megaton yield.

A week before the dismantlement of the final B53, the NNSA announced its intention to complete dismantlement of the US entire store of W70 tactical nuclear weapons, deployed atop the Army’s Lance missile system during the Cold War.

NNSA officials said the elimination of the last B53 is a significant step in President Obama’s nuclear security agenda aimed at reducing the size of the US stockpile.

CYBERCOM Guarding Networks

The computer networks of critical US defense contractors—often guarding technological secrets key to military security—will soon fall under the direct protection of the Defense Department.

US Cyber Command announced it is extending protective protocols beyond “dot mil” domains, to the networks of key defense companies, according to Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of US Strategic Command.

A pilot program was already under way in October to extend CYBERCOM protection to “part of the industrial base,” Kehler told defense reporters in Washington, D.C., Oct. 18.

“We are seeing some good success” with the effort and it will be “extended for a period of time,” he said.

CYBERCOM is a subunified command under US Strategic Command.

Super Galaxy Blazes New Air Trail

A C-5M Super Galaxy inaugurated a new nonstop supply route from the United States to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The 436th Airlift Wing aircrew from Dover AFB, Del., lifted off from the East Coast base, crossed the Atlantic, overflew Europe, and continued on into Afghanistan.

The new route, which debuted in September, “provides invaluable options and increased flexibility, so air mobility assets can arrive where they’re needed faster and more efficiently,” said Brig. Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, commander of the 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center), Scott AFB, Ill.

Total flight time was less than 14 hours, sufficiently shorter than previous routes to avoid the traditional overnight stay in Germany for mandatory crew rest.

The Galaxy rendezvoused with a KC-135 tanker from RAF Mildenhall, UK, for a refueling over England before continuing on to Bagram. Another C-5M proved the feasibility of flying from Dover to Bagram over the Arctic Circle during a similar route-shaping flight early this summer.

Reapers Begin East Africa Ops

The United States recently began operating unarmed MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft over Somalia from a forward airfield in neighboring Ethiopia. They had been operated from the Seychelles.

Last year, the Air Force began upgrading Arba Minch Airport in southwestern Ethiopia to support then-undisclosed operations in the region. With increasing US military involvement in East Africa, the Reaper surveillance flights currently provide “operation and technical support for our security-assistance programs,” said MSgt. James Fisher, 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) spokesman, quoted in the Washington Post.

Seventeenth Air Force advises and supports regional partners such as Ethiopia and Kenya that are fighting militant groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, al Shabab, and al Qaeda affiliates.

Reaper sorties “will continue as long as the government of Ethiopia welcomes our cooperation on these varied security programs,” said Fisher in late October.

Broken Eagle

An F-15C on a sortie from Nellis AFB, Nev., crashed in a remote area approximately 115 miles north of Las Vegas in late October.

The pilot ejected without injury and was rescued by a helicopter 30 minutes later as he hiked from the crash site. He was subsequently flown to Mike O’Callaghan Federal Hospital for examination and released.

Lincoln County Sheriff Kerry Lee told the Associated Press that the crash site—on federal land northwest of Alamo—was “really hard to get to,” and much of the airframe remained intact after the crash, but was soon enveloped in flames that consumed the wreckage on the ground.

The Air Force investigators immediately launched an investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

Guard Is Top Cover for Withdrawal

A combined squadron of F-16 pilots and support personnel from Arizona, Ohio, and Oklahoma Air National Guard units deployed to Iraq to cover US forces withdrawing from the country this year.

“We’re providing close air support for more than 40,000 troops leaving Iraq by the end of the year,” said Lt. Col. Rick Poplin, commander of the combined 125th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, which deployed to Iraq in October.

“During this historic undertaking to reposture personnel, equipment, and bases, force protection remains inherent in every operation we undertake,” said Poplin.

Iraq Regains Airspace Control

Early this fall, the Air Force handed over control of the last sector of Iraq’s airspace to the country’s civil aviation authority, restoring airspace sovereignty to the nation for the first time since 2003.

Iraqi air traffic controllers took full responsibility for managing the country’s busiest section of sky, fully directing all commercial traffic to Iraq’s five international airports.

The transfer of Baghdad-Balad airspace sector is “the culmination of a multiyear effort … to help Iraq develop a self-sufficient, national air traffic control system,” stated an Oct. 1 US Embassy-Baghdad news release.

Iraqi aviation infrastructure still lacks modern equipment—something the government must continue to improve upon, according to embassy officials, but the event is “a significant step forward in providing an essential service to the people of Iraq,” stated the release.

The Air Force reopened the Baghdad Area Control Center in 2007, and US and British civilian advisors tutored Iraqi controllers up to the recent handover.

Reapers Over Fort Drum

MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft began training sorties over New York state, flying from Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield at Fort Drum.

Members of the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse began RPA operations at Fort Drum after the Federal Aviation Administration approved flights early in October.

Beginning with the first sortie, Oct. 18, the wing has launched approximately three training sorties a week from Wheeler-Sack, flying orbits over a designated range in the Adirondack Mountains of northeastern New York.

With the stand-up of a new MQ-9 formal training unit at the wing’s headquarters at Hancock Field, the wing was scheduled to begin supporting RPA training at the schoolhouse in November.

Eventually, the cadre of Air Guardsmen manning the formal training unit will train MQ-9 pilots and sensor operators from across the active duty, ANG, and Air Force Reserve components, as well as foreign military operators.

Fort Drum is north of Syracuse, near Watertown and the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.

Ramstein Opens Super AOC

The newly consolidated 603rd Air and Space Operations Center, tasked with air control of Europe and Africa, inaugurated a new 60,800-square-foot combined command facility at Ramstein AB, Germany.

Officials announced plans to merge the two AOCs located in Europe—the 603rd AOC supporting US European Command and the 617th AOC supporting US Africa Command—as an efficiency measure earlier this year.

Completed this fall, the facility provides the 400 AOC personnel with 553 workstations, 1,500 computers, and 40 communication systems for the center’s dual airspace monitoring and operational command and control missions.

Engineers broke ground on the facility in 2008, completed the building’s structure last summer, and finished final integration this year.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, US Air Forces in Europe commander, oversaw the ribbon cutting at Ramstein Oct. 7.

A Libya Mercy Flight

Three days before the end of NATO operations over Libya, a 37th Airlift Squadron C-130J from Ramstein AB, Germany, ferried 32 injured Libyan rebels from Tripoli to Germany for advanced medical treatment.

The aeromedical flight marked the first time that US aircrews evacuated Libyan casualties since chaos erupted in the North African nation in mid-March.

“All of these patients were injured as a result of recent fighting and suffer from conditions that cannot currently be treated in Libya,” explained Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a joint statement.

The Secretaries called the gesture a “small token of our support,” underscoring US commitment “to Libya’s future.” Medical personnel from Ramstein and nearby Landstuhl Regional Medical Center ministered to the Libyans, 28 of whom were subsequently transferred to undergo treatment in the United States Oct. 29.

The four remaining rebels were ferried to a German hospital on a chartered Canadair business jet aircraft, tended en route by a USAF critical care air transport team.

Engine Failure Doomed ANG F-16

Air Combat Command accident investigators found “clear and convincing evidence” that engine failure led to the crash of a Wisconsin Air National Guard F-16C in June.

The report issued by the ACC accident investigation board in October stated that “a failure of the power takeoff shaft forward main bearing assembly within the accessory gearbox” caused by inadequate lubrication from a blocked oil line doomed the F-16.

Assigned to the 176th Fighter Squadron at Truax Field, the F-16 took off on a training mission June 7. Approximately one hour and 23 minutes later, the aircraft experienced a sudden loss of thrust. Unable to restart the aircraft’s engine, the pilot ejected, sustaining only superficial injuries.

The F-16 crashed next to an unoccupied summer cabin 66 miles northwest of Truax, in a rural area near New Chester, Wis. Both the aircraft and residence were completely destroyed.

Bears Drop In on NATO

A pair of Russian Air Force Tu-95 strategic bombers breached NATO airspace, triggering an Oct. 11 scramble of Alliance fighters from the UK.

Typhoon fighters on quick-reaction alert at RAF Leuchars, Scotland, launched to intercept and identify the Bear bombers.

According to the RAF, the aircraft entered UK airspace unannounced to civil or military air traffic control. The bombers failed to transmit a radar-tracking “squawk” code or to submit a required international flight plan.

The Typhoons escorted the bombers until they cleared UK airspace. The Bears were assigned to Russian Long Range Aviation, the rough equivalent of Air Force Global Strike Command’s bomber force. NATO members police Alliance airspace under a common command and control structure to track and interdict potential air threats.

Reversing a post-Cold War lull, unannounced Russian incursions have become increasingly common in NATO airspace over the past five years.

Stuck on the Sunny Side

F-15s from the Montana Air National Guard will continue to guard Hawaiian skies for another year, extending their mission at JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, through next September.

Six F-15s of the 120th Fighter Wing in Great Falls deployed to Hickam last August to cover the Hawaii ANG’s alert mission as Hickam’s 199th Fighter Squadron transitioned to the F-22 Raptor.

Upon returning to Montana, the 120th FW’s Eagles were slated for transfer to the California ANG’s 144th FW at Fresno Yosemite Airport.

According to the Great Falls Tribune, environmental assessment delays at Fresno prompted the National Guard Bureau to postpone transferring the F-15s by eight months.

Instead of returning briefly to their home base at Great Falls Airport, the 120th’s 12 deployed and rotating pilots and 35 maintainers will remain in Hawaii.

Next September, the Montana ANG will transition to its new missions: flying C-27J transports and supporting geospatial intelligence operations.

Reaper Crash Landing at Holloman

An MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the 29th Attack Squadron crashed on final approach to Holloman AFB, N.M., in the fifth such incident since Air Combat Command established RPA training at the base in 2009.

Operated by one of ACC’s RPA flight training units, the Reaper had just completed a local training sortie when the Oct. 7 incident occurred.

There were no injuries or damage to private property, according to the base release, and a board will convene to investigate the cause of the accident.

Stealthy Academy Target

A stealthy, twin-engine drone designed by cadets at the Air Force Academy for fifth generation aerial target training recently won the attention of USAF officials.

The project was selected as a finalist in the Air Force’s competitive search for a threat-representative aerial target drone suitable for F-22 and F-35 air combat training.

If selected, it would be the first academy-designed airplane meant for large-scale production to join the Air Force’s fleet, reported the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Powered by jet engines from a T-38 trainer, the design is 40 feet in length, with a wingspan of 24 feet.

The cadets are still competing against one other team, with selection of the winner possible by the end of the year, according to the report. “There are still a lot of people who have to say yes,” said academy professor Steve Brandt, who has worked with cadets on the airplane since 2003.

Recent wind-tunnel tests with a scaled model demonstrated positive flight characteristics, meaning a full-scale aircraft could potentially be constructed and airworthy within about two years.

Short Order AWACS

An Air Force engineering team successfully demonstrated several new capabilities for E-3 AWACS aircraft, proving a trio of new concepts in a demonstration test at Tinker AFB, Okla.

First on the list of requests from the war zones was a modification to the Sentry’s Situational Awareness Data Link. Operating on the Link 16 network, the E-3 can currently only send airspace information directly to other Link 16-capable aircraft, which excludes types such as the A-10 and many Air National Guard fighters.

The new SADL pioneered by the demo team “lets us use the E-3 as an opportunistic aerial gateway … to provide direct communication and send the air picture” to those other platforms, said Jonathan Lee, AWACS lead project engineer.

The two other low-cost and minimally invasive modifications recently demonstrated the AWACS ability to extend Link 16 beyond line of sight using a satellite mobile telephone, and to switch between USAF and Army networks in flight without rebooting.

B-1 Upgrade

USAF awarded Boeing a $57 million contract to begin the next phase of upgrades on Air Combat Command’s B-1 bomber fleet.

The planned tweaks will enhance the navigation, weapons delivery, radar, diagnostics, communication and navigation-management system software, and controls and displays, according to Boeing representatives.

“Keeping the platform relevant and ready is more important now than ever. These annual software block upgrades enhance the sustainability of the B-1s and provide needed capabilities that aid this nation’s defenders,” said Rick Greenwell, Boeing’s B-1 program director.

Block 16A upgrades complement the B-1’s recently completed color cockpit displays, data link, and sensor enhancements, boosting the aircrew’s overall situational awareness, stated a Boeing release in October.

Candidate Bases Identified

Three bases made the Air Force’s list of candidates to host an active duty MQ-1/MQ-9 remote split operations squadron.

Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.; JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; and Shaw AFB, S.C., are all in the running for the MQ-1/MQ-9 RSO unit, which would bring with it 280 personnel and their associated equipment, officials announced in October.

No MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft will be physically assigned to any of the locations. Instead, the selected base would host an RPA ground control station to operate Predator and Reaper drones forward located in places such as Afghanistan via satellite data link.

“These candidate bases will be analyzed to determine which location will best host this mission,” said Kathleen I. Ferguson, USAF’s deputy assistant secretary for installations.

The Air Force’s final base selection is slated for this month.

AEHF-1 Reaches Operational Perch

The Air Force’s first Advanced Extremely High Frequency military communications satellite finally achieved its intended orbit after more than a year of wandering.

AEHF-1 reached its perch on geosynchronous orbit Oct. 24. Shortly after launch last August, the satellite suffered a thruster malfunction which forced the Air Force and industry minds to craft an alternate plan using different thrusters to boost the satellite into position.

The team managed to raise the satellite to its functional orbit, without depleting onboard fuel stores to the point of shortening its planned 14 years of mission life, according to USAF officials.

Rifle Training Intensified

Beginning this month, airmen can expect a longer, more challenging rifle course. Aimed at better preparing airmen for deployments downrange, the new course is tailored with current combat in mind.

Combatant commanders identified the need to move away from Cold War-era qualification and “give our airmen quality training,” said MSgt. Scott Brown, US Air Forces in Europe combat arms program manager.

Requirements differ based on an airmen’s specialty code and the course varies in length from nine hours to 11 hours. Airmen in combat-focused Group A career fields fire 280 rounds of ammunition, including a night shooting course aided by laser aiming devices, illuminating scopes, and barrel-mounted lamps.

The majority of career fields, designated Group B, now fire a 200-round course including semi-automatic and three-round burst fire, combined with instruction in threat discrimination and tactical target engagement.

Both A and B groups must score 70 percent or higher for basic qualification, instead of the previous accuracy requirement of 50 percent or better.

Evasion Training Center Opens

A new $6 million survival training facility opened for business at Lackland AFB, Tex., consolidating all USAF Evasion and Conduct After Capture training to one location.

Overseen by instructors from Lackland’s 22nd Training Squadron, roughly 6,000 students per year are expected to pass through the new facility for specialized predeployment preparation. Aircrew members still undergo survival training at Fairchild AFB, Wash.

The facility incorporates an urban-evasion laboratory designed to train airmen to overcome the unique challenges of avoiding capture within the confines of a city.

“When they leave this course, if they become isolated in any environment in any part of the world, they’ll have the skills necessary [to] adapt and overcome” the threats around them, said TSgt. James Davis, the detachment’s ECAC course manager.

Students going through the Combat Skills Training Course and Basic Combat Convoy Course at nearby Camp Bullis also will train at the facility, which opened Oct. 3.

Start Date for F-35 Training at Eglin Under Review

A senior Pentagon official expressed “serious concerns” about starting F-35 training on USAF’s F-35A variant at Eglin AFB, Fla., this year as planned. The Joint Strike Fighter program has yet to address some safety-related issues that could take up to 10 months to properly address, said J. Michael Gilmore, director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

“Initiation of training in an immature aircraft risks the occurrence of a serious mishap. The consequences of a mishap at Eglin would overwhelm the very modest benefits of beginning flight training this fall,” wrote Gilmore in a memo to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Oct. 21.

High-level JSF program officials disagreed with Gilmore, posting a rebuttal memo to the same Project on Government Oversight blog that originally released the memo airing Gilmore’s concerns.

Vice Adm. David J. Venlet, JSF program executive officer, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas J. Owen, commander of the Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, said that the risks asserted in the memo were “covered at length during the three-star risk assessment board as part of the airworthiness process.”

In a third memo, Frank Kendall, acting USD (ATL), requested that the Air Force review the topic and provide satisfactory resolution to the issue.

Malware Spares RPAs

Remotely piloted aircraft controlled from Creech AFB, Nev., were unhindered by a computer virus detected in the RPA ground control system there in September, according to 24th Air Force officials.

“We felt it important to declassify portions of the information associated with this event to ensure the public understands that the detected and quarantined virus posed no threat to our operational mission and that control of our remotely piloted aircraft was never in question,” said Col. Kathleen Cook, Air Force Space Command spokeswoman at Petersen AFB, Colo.

After malware was discovered on portable hard drives used to transfer information between systems, USAF analyzed the systems, isolated and traced the code to its source, and then cleaned the computers.

The infected ground control systems support RPA operations but are separate from the Predator and Reaper flight control systems, used to guide RPAs in the air over Afghanistan and Iraq, officials said.

Designated a “credential stealer,” rather than a key-logging program as initially reported by the press, the bug was “considered more of a nuisance than an operational threat,” officials noted.

The virus “entered from the wild,” probably during a manual hard-drive replacement, noted US Strategic Command Commander Gen. C. Robert Kehler, speaking in October.

Talon vs. Raptor at Langley

T-38 adversary aircraft with the 27th Fighter Squadron at JB Langley-Eustis, Va., attained initial operational capability shortly after Langley’s F-22s returned to the skies in September.

“Our whole mission requires us to train against the Raptor,” said Col. Derek Wyler, 27th FS director of T-38 operations. With the fleetwide F-22 grounding lifted, squadron T-38 pilots were quickly able to gain their required mission qualifications, sprinting to T-38 IOC in under a month.

With the T-38s now up and running, the 1st FW now gets “more training at a much lower cost,” said Col. Kevin Robbins, wing commander. The benefit comes primarily by eliminating the use of F-22 in the opposition role.

With seven T-38s, the 27th FS is working to push daily sortie averages from six to eight, despite a tiny pool of pilots. The squadron has only two full-time pilots assigned. “You’re looking at it,” said Wyler, gesturing to his assistant ops director, Lt. Col. Brian Kelly.

“We didn’t get any additional bodies to fly T-38s,” forcing the squadron to innovate an elaborate solution, explained Robbins. The squadron draws on a pool of dual-qualified F-22 pilots, as well as staff pilots from Air Combat Command headquarters (also at Langley), and pilots from the 1st FW’s associate unit, the Virginia Air National Guard’s 192nd FW—each pilot chipping in five sorties on average per month.

With the success thus far, Langley’s T-38 program could potentially expand to 14 airframes, depending on Fiscal 2013 funding, according to Robbins.

The War on Terrorism

Operation Enduring Freedom


By Nov. 16, a total of 1,826 Americans had died in Operation Enduring Freedom. The total includes 1,823 troops and three Department of Defense civilians. Of these deaths, 1,452 were killed in action with the enemy, while 374 have died in noncombat incidents.

There have been 14,837 troops wounded in action during OEF.

DC Vipers Deploy to Afghanistan

The District of Columbia Air National Guard’s 113th Wing recently launched the first ANG F-16 deployment to Afghanistan, dispatching several aircraft to Bagram Airfield there.

“This is the first F-16 package the Air National Guard will send to Afghanistan, so it presents some new challenges for us,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey R. Johnson, 113th Wing commander.

Departing from JB Andrews, Md., Oct. 11, the deployment to Bagram follows a tour in Iraq that concluded some 18 months ago. The unit also leads the NORAD mission to provide air defenses for the National Capital Region, rendering planning all the more complex, noted Johnson.

“Even though we are deploying our forces forward to Afghanistan, we still maintain a constant homeland defense mission here at home.” More than 175 aircrew, maintainers, and support personnel deployed with the first ANG F-16 package.

Keeping Busy in the Name of Liberty

MC-12 reconnaissance aircraft assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron recently surpassed 10,000 sorties and 50,000 flight hours since deploying to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, two years ago.

Lt. Col. James Thompson, 4th ERS commander, said the MC-12s—which also operate with the 362nd ERS of JB Balad, Iraq, and 361st ERS at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan—”are flying at the greatest rate” of any manned aircraft in the Air Force. Liberty aircrew with the 4th ERS routinely reach the maximum authorized flying hours permitted in a month, according to unit officials.

Providing live video and signals intelligence to ground troops, the unit contributed directly to the elimination or capture of 4,000 targets by October.

Investigation Confirms RPG Downed Chinook

US Central Command investigators conclusively determined that an insurgent-fired rocket-propelled grenade brought down an Army CH-47 helicopter in an attack that killed 30 US servicemen and eight Afghans in Southwest Asia this August.

Based on wreckage, witness accounts, and full-motion video footage, CENTCOM officials determined an RPG struck the helicopter’s aft rotor as it approached the landing zone, severing a blade and disintegrating both of the helicopter’s two rotors.

According to the investigation team findings, the aircraft’s “main fuselage dropped vertically,” exploding on impact.

“This mission, and the tactics and resources employed in its execution, were consistent with previous US special operations missions, and the strike forces selected … were appropriate,” investigating officer Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey N. Colt wrote in the official summary, released Oct. 12.

Three airmen were among the victims killed during the night mission to kill or capture a Taliban leader in Wardak province, Afghanistan, Aug. 6. The Air Force deceased, all from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, N.C., were TSgt. John W. Brown, 33, of Tallahassee, Fla.; SSgt. Andrew W. Harvell, 26, of Long Beach, Calif.; and TSgt. Daniel L. Zerbe, 28, of York, Pa.

Senior Staff Changes

RETIREMENTS: Lt. Gen. Vern M. Findley II, Maj. Gen. David W. Eidsaune, Maj. Gen. Patrick D. Gillett Jr., Maj. Gen. Michael A. Snodgrass, Brig. Gen. Larry K. Grundhauser.

NOMINATION: To be Lieutenant General: Ronnie D. Hawkins Jr.

SENIOR EXECUTIVE SERVICE CHANGES: James J. Brooks, to Assoc. Dir., Strat. Planning, DCS, Strat. Plans & Prgms., USAF, Pentagon … Michael D. Petersen, to Asst. Auditor General, Spt. & Personnel Audits, AF Audit Agency, Randolph AFB, Tex. … Glenda H. Scheiner, to Dep. Dir., Financial Mgmt., AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio … Jeffrey H. Stanley, to Dep. Dir., ISR & Rqmts., AFMC, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.