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US, foreign military pilots navigate through Alaskan, Canadian wildfire smoke

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (AFNS) --

Training scenarios for U.S. military and 11 partnering nation pilots who are participating in Air Mobility Command’s large-scale exercise, Mobility Guardian, now include reduced visibility due to wildfires.

The smoke, which is a milky haze, descended upon much of Washington August 1, 2017.

“This phenomenon is caused by smoke from wildfires in Alaska as well as northern and central Canada,” according to the National Weather Service website. “The smoke from these fires rises high into the atmosphere and is driven south across the Upper Midwest by upper level winds.”

While the haze presents several challenges for Mobility Guardian pilots, it also offers crews a unique opportunity.

“It bolsters crew resource management,” said Maj. Andrew Rich, the Mobility Guardian joint task force director of operations. “It creates more complex scenarios to navigate through which helps sharpen their skills.”

Though the haze may be compared by some to flying through fog or at night, flying through smoke presents different challenges.

“AMC uses [night-vision goggles] extremely well to navigate the challenges of night flying,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Wagner, the Mobility Guardian exercise director. “Smoke is an obscurant that cannot be easily mitigated.

“It’s just more difficult for every task,” he continued “We’re pushing hard to get difficult and valuable training. We are empowering crews to press forward to accomplishing their missions safely.”

Safety is of paramount concern.

“We are providing flying observer controllers whose primary purpose is the safety and effective execution of all the missions,” said Lt. Col. Joe Bonner, the Mobility Guardian observer controllers mission commander. “They’ve all been given the authority to terminate a sortie at any time safety or crew error becomes a factor.

“This is an exercise – there’s nothing we are going to do to put planes or crews at risk,” he added.

To date, several routes have been changed and one airdrop was cancelled.

Mobility Guardian is a new exercise intended to enhance mobility partnerships and test the full spectrum of capabilities AMC provides the nation. It began July 31, 2017, and is scheduled to conclude August 12, 2017. The exercise involves participation from more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps in addition to participants from 25 international countries.