US Army Priority Air Transport marks first 20 years of service

USAPAT operates Gulfstream G550, 2 GVs, 1 GIV, 1 GIII and 3 Citation Encores for high-level executive transport.

Getting the right team

Lt Col Dennis Griffin has been USAPAT's commanding officer since Jun 2005. Like most pilots currently assigned to the unit, he is an Army Master Aviator.

USAPAT is what CO Griffin calls "a nominative assignment." The Dept of the Army provides a list of candidates, and the unit chooses the best qualified. "We're able to select the cream of the crop across the organization," he says.

"The VIP mission demands a wealth of experience, and USAPAT looks for seasoned Army aviators with approximately 3 tours of fixed-wing experience." Individual pilots with the unit have an average of 5000 hrs TT.

Most are Army Master Aviators, although this is not a prerequisite. As Griffin puts it, "You can teach anyone to fly." Crewmembers must be able to interact with others, handle difficult situations when they arise and develop a course of action as necessary.

He notes, "This takes someone with a professional and nonabrasive personality. They have to make safe decisions, eg, when the weather is not conducive, and be able to stand their ground in a tactful and candid manner."

And, says Griffin, while technical skills are important, "personality is probably the biggest discriminator in this organization." In FY2008 (Oct 1, 2007-Sep 30, 2008), USAPAT's 5 Gulfstreams achieved 3500 flight hours in the course of 290 service missions, 147 of them outside the continental US (OCONUS) and all of them accident-free.

To put this more in perspective, the unit successfully completed its missions to 73 countries on 6 continents during those 12 months. "It's not uncommon to leave ADW on Sunday going eastbound and return here from California on the Friday after the mission," notes Griffin.

The Citations accumulated 1700 flight hours in 230 service missions. With such a wide "mission coordination packet," pop-ups can arise with as little as 24 hrs' advance warning, but the unit usually has more advance notice.


(L-R) CW4s Kelley Denny, Fernando Avila, Jeffrey Fraher and Kris Rogers, and CW5 Charles Waddell with Gulfstream C37B "Valley Forge."

Standardization Officer CW5 Charles Waddell has served in the Army for 25 years. His 8600 hrs TT include 5600 hrs fixed-wing. He was stationed at Hickam AFB from Nov 2002-Oct 2005, and joined USAPAT in Jul 2008.

As unit standardization officer Waddell oversees and coordinates aircrew training programs. CW4 Jeff Fraher is the unit training officer. He has been in the Army for 20 years and has 5500 hrs TT, 4500 of them fixed-wing.

Fraher served with the Ramstein detachment from Nov 2004 until transferring to ADW in Jun 2008. Today he manages a training budget of $1.7 million and oversees aircrew initial qualification and annual recurrents.

Fraher notes that, although some pilots arrive at the unit qualified on Citations, none are already qualified on Gulfstreams with the exception of returnees. Initial and recurrent training is spread geographically.

Pilots and crew train with Gulfstream DAL for the GIII, Gulfstream LBA/SAV for the GIV and FlightSafety Intl (FSI) ILG/ SAV for the GV/G550. Citation pilots attend FSI ICT/ORL. In addition, Gulfstream pilots train at FSI DAL/SAV and CAE SimuFlite DFW (on international ops procedures), and crews attend FSI SAV (3-4 weeks for flight engineers, 1 week for flight stewards).

CW4 Kelley Denny is USAPAT safety officer and is a PIC on all types. She has been in the Army since Nov 1989 and has been with USAPAT for 3.5 years (out of a 4-year assignment). She has amassed 4000 hrs TT (3000 of them fixed-wing) and is adding to them at a rate of about 400 hrs per year.

Denny is in charge of safety training, including that of the 2 overseas detachments. She monitors unit operations, incidents and accidents (if and when they occur) and, when not on the flight schedule, puts together classes on every aspect of safety (eg, fire avoidance and risk management).

CW4 Fernando Avila is an instructor pilot. With 20 years' Army experience behind him, he has been with USAPAT since Oct 2004. He has accumulated 6700 hrs TT, including 5200 hrs fixed-wing. Currently, Avila is overseeing the training of 23 pilots and 19 crew (7 flight engineers plus 12 flight stewards).

Flight Engineer SSG David Schweigert demonstrates Rockwell Collins Airshow 4000 satellite TV aboard the C37B.

This includes holding classes in safety and maintenance issues. In addition to his regular duties, Avila has taken on the role of unit historian and curator of an impressive display of memorabilia illustrating the unit's history.

He is an encyclopedia of information, and more than willing to share that knowledge. As Avila recounts, USAPAT's predecessor unit was established at DAA in 1987 with Beech C12 Hurons. However, runway length considerations and the prospect of operating jet aircraft meant that the Army's new executive transport unit soon relocated to ADW.

At first USAPAT used a modest double-wide trailer, later incorporated in the unit's headquarters building (and still just discernible in its structure). Aug 1988 marked the start of USAPAT operations at ADW. Its first aircraft were a pair of C20Es-87-0139 and 87-0140.

These were the last 2 Gulfstream IIIs built, and the first jet aircraft to be operated by the US Army. USAPAT took the best-qualified pilots from other Army units in order to meet its operational requirements. In 1989 the unit acquired a Gulfstream II from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Then, in the early 1990s, it added 3 Gates Learjet C21s (2 from the US Air Force plus a confiscated civilian aircraft). USAPAT took delivery of C20F (GIV) 91-0108 "Victory" in 1991, during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. This aircraft is currently allocated to HIK.

The unit retired its GII in 1998, using it as a down-payment on what would be the Army's first Gulfstream V. In Nov 1999 it accepted C37A (GV) 97-0049 "Normandy" (later reserialed 97-1944).

Retirement of the C21s began in 1998/99, at which time the unit picked up 3 Cessna Citation Ultras. By 2002 it had turned these in for an equal number of UC35B Citation Encores-00-1052, '53 and 01-0301.

A second C37A (GV) 02-1863 "Gettysburg" was acquired in Jan 2003, followed by C37B (G550) 04-1778 "Valley Forge" in Jan 2005. The Army was the first branch of the US military to operate the G550.


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