Operational Support Aircraft provide flexibility for commanders
FUTENMA, Japan - Breaking through the clouds, the sleek jet slices through the air carrying its precious cargo. While this aircraft does not fit the normal pattern of military aircraft, it has a special mission that only it and its crew can accomplish.
Marines and civilians with Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s Operational Support Aircraft, also known as “Magic,” provide transport of troops and cargo to various objectives throughout the Pacific.
OSA’s mission is to provide reliable, swift travel for personnel and equipment to reach their troops on exercises and operations in the Asia-Pacific region, according to Maj. Jeremy E. Reinfeld, the operations officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, MCAS Futenma, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
“III Marine Expeditionary Force’s area of operation encompasses nearly a third of the globe,” said Reinfeld, “and none of it is connected by roads. We provide the III Marine Expeditionary Force commander and his forces with time-critical transportation throughout the AO on short notice. We can get into many airfields that aren’t serviced by scheduled airlines.”
The unit flies two aircraft: the UC-12W Beechcraft King Air 350 and the UC-35D Cessna Citation Encore.
The UC-12W is a twin-turboprop aircraft that can carry up to eight passengers comfortably and has a maximum takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds. With a cruising speed of over 330 miles per hour, this aircraft has a range of almost 2,000 nautical miles.
The UC-35D is a twin-engine aircraft that holds up to eight passengers with a maximum takeoff weight of 16,300 pounds. Though it has a smaller wingspan than the UC-12W, the UC-35D can reach almost 575 miles per hour and boasts a range of 1,800 nautical miles.
During their average 2,500 to 3,000 flight hours per year, Magic pilots will fly to various locations in mainland Japan, Republic of Korea, Republic of the Philippines, Kingdom of Thailand, Cambodia and Guam, according to Reinfeld. These trips are made to support various exercises such as Cobra Gold, PHIBLEX, Ssang Yong and Forest Light.
Typical OSA passengers include high-priority commanders, dignitaries and public figures, but Magic also provides services to enlisted Marines and space-available flyers.
“Our passengers range from four-star generals to family members riding space-A,” said Reinfeld. “We support all of III MEF’s requirements for travel throughout the area of operations, regardless of rank. If it is a valid mission that cannot be serviced by a scheduled airline or it is more cost effective to use OSA, we provide the service.”
With a wide variety of passengers and various cargo, the OSA pilots and crew must always be on top of their game.
“When we’re moving passengers and gear, it’s because they’re high-priority and these things need to get done expediently,” said Cpl. Nicholas C. Grasso, a transport air crewman with H&HS. “That is why we have these smaller aircraft that are mission specific.”
While in most units the pilots’ main priority is to fly the planes, and the crews’ is to keep the planes in the air, at Magic, everyone fulfills multiple roles within the unit, according to Grasso.
“The transport air crewmen hold other jobs within the unit: (such as) flight scheduling, logs and records,” said Grasso. “On top of fulfilling our flight requirements within Magic, we also are responsible for scheduling the flights and taking care of the pilots. It’s two or more jobs rolled into one.”
The pilots come from a variety of different flight backgrounds to fly these aircraft, according to Reinfeld.
“I am an AV-8B pilot, we also have (fixed-wing aircraft and helicopter) pilots flying with us,” said Reinfeld. “Some of our pilots are assigned to H&HS Futenma on flying orders; others are attached to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing or MCIPAC and fly with us as augment pilots.”
While their missions may be less recognized than those of more well-known aircraft squadrons, OSA provides a much needed service in the Asia-Pacific region for the Marine Corps.
“We are probably the most flexible flying unit anywhere in the military,” said William J. Devogel, a transport air crewman with H&HS. “We can change plans in a minute. We can always find pilots because some of them belong to different squadrons on different bases.”
Throughout Magic, there’s a sense of pride in the services it provides.
“One of the most important things that we provide to III MEF and MCIPAC commanders is flexibility,” said Reinfeld. “We are able to save them time and money by getting them throughout the (area of operations) on short notice.”