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Kadena launches Pacific region's first MC-130J five-ship formation flight

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS) -- Instead of the usual howl of jet engines, members of Kadena Air Base heard the growl of 120 turboprop blades chopping the air as the 17th Special Operations Squadron’s MC-130J Commando IIs dominated the airfield scene Feb. 17.

Within an hour of standing by at stations, the aircraft took to the skies during the Pacific region's first five-ship formation flight involving the new specialized mobility aircraft.

The formation was part of the 353rd Special Operations Group's training exercise that tested the 17th SOS and the 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron to launch a short-notice, large-scale tasking.

"We routinely fly two ships, but we mobilized five ships to test our ability to generate aircraft in full force, to make sure our maintenance can support that, and to make sure we can do the planning in case we are ever asked to fly a large formation," said Maj. Brad Talley, the 17th SOS assistant director of operations.

As part of that assessment, team members evaluated their formation flying and short runway landings; combat systems operators tested their cargo air drop timing; and loadmasters tested their cargo delivery system rigging abilities.

"We mobilized all available personnel in the squadron to execute this mission, while all five planes were able to accomplish all cargo drops, land in a small landing zone, maintain formation, and return safely," Talley said.

Though the team successfully accomplished the exercise objectives, it wasn't a simple process. Despite complex procedures, the 17th SOS Jakal team members overcame the challenges to ensure mission completion.

"The most difficult portion was the planning and safe execution of the mission, since most of our squadron isn't used to that level of de-confliction complexity," said Senior Airman Zach Harmon, a 17th SOS MC-130J Commando II loadmaster.

To Talley, the best part of the mission was seeing the whole team fly together and build camaraderie.

"My favorite part was flying in close formation with all my Jakal brethren, exploring various formation geometries, and seeing how well each crew flew," Talley said.

The 17th SOS was activated as a permanent unit at Kadena AB on Aug. 1, 1989, and is instrumental in carrying out wartime and contingency operations in support of U.S. and allied special operations forces.

The 17th SOS began the transition from the MC-130P Combat Shadows to the MC-130J Commando IIs in Dec. 2014, with the latest aircraft arriving on Kadena in Oct. 2015. Technological advances allow the Commando II to set new standards for safety and accuracy in executing clandestine missions.

The new aircraft specializes in nighttime, low-level infiltration/exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces as well as air refueling missions for special operations’ vertical lift aircraft.

The 353rd SOG, made up of more than 800 Airmen, is the only Air Force Special Operations Command unit in the Pacific and is integral to AFSOC. The group conducts wartime and contingency operations planning and execution as well as humanitarian and relief operations, all the while maintaining global mobility readiness for special forces around the world.