C-130 aircrews: no strangers to providing assistance on ground

Single engine white Cessna aircraft in the middle of a field as taken from 1500 feet above it.

Photo taken by JODY 40 Aircrews as they found the downed Aircraft Jan. 11, 2018 near Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.


C-130 aircrews are no strangers to providing assistance to those on the ground.  Normally that takes the form of delivering critical supplies to a remote outpost or putting combat-rigged airborne troops safely on a drop zone.  However, on a recent 62d Airlift Squadron student training mission our formation was able to unexpectedly lend a hand to local first responders.   


JODY 40, my two aircraft formation, was on a flight for a simulated airdrop at Blackjack Drop Zone when we received a traffic call from Little Rock Approach about an aircraft, altitude unknown, along our flight path.  The crew held checklists and began scanning for the traffic, and quickly spotted a white, single-engine Cessna which eventually passed directly beneath us at a fairly low altitude.  Moments later, we heard the pilot of the Cessna state that he was having a malfunction and was going to have to land in a field.  That got our attention.


My crew marked the location of where we had seen the Cessna and continued the run-in while monitoring Little Rock Approach frequency.  We listened as a private pilot in the area talked with the pilot of the downed aircraft and determined he made a safe landing. 


After we completed our simulated airdrop, we queried Little Rock Approach if they needed us to find the downed aircraft because we had a pretty good idea where he was and could get there quickly.  They told us that another pilot was enroute to assist and did not require our assistance.


We continued our training with a recovery and low approach at Little Rock AFB, but when we switched back to Little Rock Approach it was clear that the private pilot or Sheriff’s Department were unable to locate the aircraft.


We queried them again offering our assistance; this time they requested we fly to the downed Cessna and asked that we provide the sheriff’s office the exact location.


We deviated from our flight plan and went directly to the area where we marked his location; taking into account his direction of flight and altitude we had a fairly good idea of where he would have landed.  We also knew there were no other aircraft from LRAFB in the area at that time so there were no conflicts with our flight path.


I flew the ground track set by Maj. Sterlin, my student and co-pilot, and he immediately spotted the aircraft in a field. 


As we setup a flight pattern at a safe altitude around the aircraft, Little Rock Approach requested adjacent roads for the Sheriff's Department instead of coordinates to better assist them. SSgt Tucciarone, our loadmaster, was able to use his iPhone to pinpoint the location and precise driving directions to the aircraft which were passed to Little Rock Approach. 


After partnering with response units on the ground, we proceeded with the rest of the mission and continued our training. 


The crews of JODY 40 flight didn’t plan to help locate a downed aircraft for local authorities when we stepped to the aircraft that day.  However, we were at the right place at the right time and given the opportunity to provide assistance, so we naturally did.  I commend everyone in the formation for maintaining high situational awareness inside and outside the aircraft and employing the capabilities of the C-130J to meet the task at hand.  Everyone was on the same page, basically as soon as we heard the distressed aircraft, and seamlessly took actions that allowed us to navigate directly to the downed aircraft.  Even though we obviously didn’t brief this aspect of our flight, it goes to show the professionalism and abilities of our C-130J crews to safely improvise, meet challenges and create strong partnerships on the ground.  I expect that any random C-130J aircrew would use the fundamentals they learned at the 314th Airlift Wing “school house” to achieve the same outcome.