SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
ANG 201st Airlift Sqn flies the flag
Elite unit uses Boeing BBJs to provide members of Congress, military leaders and senior US officials with global reach.
By Phil Rose
201st Airlift Squadron personnel with one of the unit's 3 Boeing C40Cs at ADW. The squadron relies on the C40 for all long-distance missions, including frequent trips to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bearing the title "Ambassadors of the National Guard," the 201st Airlift Squadron (201 AS) is tasked primarily with transporting distinguished visitors (DVs)—including the First Lady, members of Congress, the House Speaker and the Chief of the National Guard Bureau (a 4-star general)—anywhere in the world, often at short notice, and to do so safely, comfortably and reliably.
One of several elite air transport units based at ADW (Joint Base Andrews, Camp Springs MD), 201 AS is a unit of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG). It forms part of the US Air Force 113th Wing (113 WG) and falls under Air Mobility Command (AMC)—USAF's "umbrella" for all airlift assets—as well as the Air National Guard (ANG).
Although the unit has always been located at ADW, it was known as Det 1 Operating Location Andrews Annex (OLAA) from its inception until 1992, when it was redesignated the 201st. In that same year the squadron's major command was transferred to the Mississippi ANG. In 1995, the 201st realigned from the 172nd Air Wing to the 113th Wing, DCANG. The squadron remains the only VIP special airlift mission unit in the ANG.
Equipment, staffing and missions
The squadron flies 3 Boeing C40Cs (BBJs) and a pair of IAI C38As (Astra SPXs) in the operational support and DV transport role. The C40s were delivered in 2002 and 2004, their acquisition giving 201 AS the genuinely global reach required by its mission. It also permitted retirement of the unit's 3 Boeing C22Bs (727-100s), which had been in service for some 17 years.
The 2 C38s, which are unique in the US military inventory, were delivered in 1998, prior to which the unit operated 4 Learjet C21As. The C38s are used primarily for missions within the continental US (CONUS), while the majority—around 90%—of all C40 flights are direct-support missions outside the US (OCONUS).
Currently (Aug 2011), 201 AS has around 180 personnel—a mix of full and part-time. There are 38 pilots. Of these, 20 are C40 pilots, 12 are C38 pilots and 6 are dual qualified. The present figure of 29 flight attendants is slightly down from the fully staffed level of 45.
Former Commander Colonel Andy Donnelly (now with Air Combat Command) describes the 201 AS mission as that of global projection and global protection in safety and comfort.
He lists 3 levels of tasking. The highest, which comes from the White House Military Office (WHMO), covers White House Advance (lead, ground support and set-up teams) and cabinet-level and staff missions. (Unlike 89 AW, the 201st has no "top 5" mandate. Thus, for example, the Secretary of Defense and senior members of government fly with 89 AW.)
The next level is that of the Asst Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Special Air Missions Division (CVAM)'s Congressional VIP Office—a Dept of Defense unit that supports the US government's special airlift mission needs for senior officials, including the Speaker of the House (who determines the eligibility of members of Congress to use military aircraft). Thirdly, the Chief of NGB may assign transportation missions involving Guard leadership and 4, 3 and 2-star officers.
Former Dir of Ops Lt Col Ralph "Butch" Pisani (L) and Deputy Commander 201 OSF Maj Greg Coleman in the front office of a unit C40C.
Donnelly was previously commander of the 113th Maintenance Group (which works on Lockheed Martin F16s) and took up his current post in Aug 2010. He has around 3500 hrs TT (military) as well as 3000 hrs on United Airlines Airbus A319s/A320s and Boeing 727s.
A 10-year ANG veteran, Donnelly spent the previous 15 years as active duty USAF while also flying separately for United Airlines.
Congressional delegation (CODEL) missions, "diplomatic outreach" and overseas trade missions form a sizeable proportion of the 201st's work. This is where the C40s come into their own. A typical mission may take 10–11 days and visit numerous countries.
Because of this and the sensitive nature of certain trips, says Donnelly, the squadron works with the State Dept to obtain the necessary clearances. Lead time can be anything from less than a week to 5 weeks, he says.
"Most flight time is dedicated to actual missions," notes Donnelly. "It's very different from fighter ops." The 201st has a "steady-state" mission—customer service. Its goals are safety, reliability and passenger comfort.
National and federal missions are allocated through a USAF process. State (DC) missions include providing support for Presidential Inaugurations, World Bank meetings, etc.
Whereas most ANG units require members to attend 1 weekend per month and serve a 2-week assignment every year, 201 AS crew-members are required to fly at least 1 mission every quarter to stay proficient. Pilots typically fly for commercial airlines.
201 AS is unique too in that manning is 90% full-time, 10% part-time. (A typical unit is 40% full-time, 60% part-time.) Members of the unit "have to be proficient and they have to be available," says Donnelly.
Lt Col Louis Campbell took over on Feb 1 as assistant director of operations. An active duty Guardsman with 22 years' service in DCANG, Campbell was a McDonnell F4 crew chief and then an F16 crew chief with 113 WG from Dec 1987–Sep 2002.
In civilian life he flew Jetstream 41s for ACA and Boeing 727s for American Airlines. Campbell joined 201 AS in Nov 2006 and, as a C40 instructor pilot, flies OCONUS missions about once every 45 days, plus occasional local trips.
"I enjoy the precision of landing and flying in difficult conditions," says Campbell, who has flown 2 C40 missions to Iraq so far this year. Flying VIPs is both "fascinating" and "humbling."
Maj Greg Coleman has 3700 hrs TT (all military) and joined the 201st 6 years ago after 9 years of active duty.
Coleman serves as deputy commander of 201st Operations Support Flight (201 OSF). As its name suggests, 201 OSF provides support for operational missions, including squadron ops, intelligence, mission planning, training tactics and life support equipment.
A dual qualified pilot from 2005–07, Coleman spends much of his time on management these days and flies an average of 20 hrs per month.
Lt Col Ralph "Butch" Pisani is director of operations. As such, he is responsible for day-to-day scheduling of pilot and flight attendant missions across the entire flying operation.
For 8 years before joining the 201st in 2000 Pisani flew F16s with DCANG. He has amassed 4000 hrs TT military and 1000 hrs civilian.
Deputy Chief of Scheduling 1st Lt Rhett Gunderson spent 8 years in the Army before joining 201 AS in Jun 2008. A former Sikorsky UH60 pilot, he now flies right seat on C38s and is on track to become PIC later this year. He flies around 200 hrs per year, but scheduling duties account for a good 90% of his time.