RFC Ft Belvoir—Army’s largest provider of on-demand regional lift
National Guard unit flies Beechcraft C12s, Cessna UC35 Citation Ultras in priority air transport role.
Maintenance team members (L–R) Lead Mechanic Stuart Ehrlich, Senior Mechanic Keith Purks and Mechanics Joe Koling and Will Stephes.
Fixed-wing qualified pilots typically fly the C12 first and qualify on the UC35 later. Kelly explains that UC35 pilot training is based on need. Ten pilots are dual qualified at present, including himself. Monitoring 30 pilots and their records is, he admits, “quite a challenge.”
Instructor Pilot CW4 James Toler is Unit Safety Officer. On active duty for 28 years, he flew GRF-based C7s and C12s for military intelligence before joining RFC Fort Belvoir in Aug 2007. Toler is dual qualified and has 4500 hrs TT, including 800 rotary-wing.
He flies 50–70 hrs in a typical month, depending on operational tempo. All instructor pilots are responsible for safety instruction, but Toler also holds monthly meetings to keep pilot awareness at a high level. He ensures that all personnel observe safety measures, including FOD issues, hazmat procedures and cold weather rules.
In the event of an accident Toler would be the investigating officer. Toler’s brief extends beyond regular duty hours to cover home safety issues. Kelly confirms this. “Safety’s a big thing in the Army,” he says. “We take it home to our families.” C12 Standardization Officer CW4 Tim O’Sullivan has served 18 years in the Army and completed 2 combat tours.
He came to the unit in 2007 after completing a fixed-wing course. With 6000 hrs TT (1200 in C12s, 800 in single-engine civilian aircraft and 4000 rotary-wing), this is his 1st fixed-wing assignment. Since qualifying as an instructor pilot in late 2008, most of O’Sullivan’s duties have involved C12 pilot training.
Typically, he says, nonqualified pilots gain experience in the Cessna 182 as a “stepping stone” before going into a C12 simulator and taking an accelerated C12-focused course. FlightSafety Intl (FSI) runs the Army C12 qualification courses at DHN (Dothan AL).
Operations Officer CW3 Charles Ciccarelli (L) and Contracting Officer’s Representative CW3 Marcus Bennett with a unit Beechcraft C12U.
(For comparison, UC35 pilots attend FSI Wichita to earn a civilian Citation rating.) Strictly speaking, the Army requires C12 pilots to have 500 hrs to be PIC qualified, but O’Sullivan explains that assessments are actually more proficiency-based, meaning that pilots can be signed off earlier. Civilian skill sets are also taken into account.
Once PIC qualified, pilots must undergo a proficiency and readiness test each year, with a full evaluation similar to that required for a civilian ATP licence. O’Sullivan is responsible for keeping and tracking pilot records.
He also holds monthly meetings to cover standardization issues, aircraft systems and proficiency. Pilot upgrades are not automatic, says O’Sullivan—nor are they based on seniority. “If you’re a proficient aviator there’s a chance to move up quickly,” he says. “One advantage of Army flying is the opportunity to excel.”
Contracting Officer’s Representative CW3 Marcus Bennett works directly with DynCorp, which has the contract for C12 and UC35 maintenance at DAA. All 8 team members are civilian A&Ps, although 3 have previous military experience. Lead Mechanic Stuart Ehrlich has been assigned to DAA for about 5 years, having previously worked in maintenance for FedEx at IAD. Senior Mechanic Keith Purks is an A&P/FCC.
A former marine, he has been at DAA for 4 years. Ehrlich and Purks are both IAs. DynCorp technicians carry out all line maintenance at DAA, as well as phase inspections and engine changes, says Ehrlich. DynCorp keeps relatively few parts in stock, and the C12s and UC35s are sent elsewhere for higher-level maintenance.
Maintenance team members work 40 hours a week in 3 overlapping shifts. As team lead, Ehrlich is on call 24/7, while rotation determines which technicians are on call or work weekends to help Regional Flight Center Fort Belvoir achieve mission readiness. As with all PAT operations, failure is not considered an option.
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