Wherever you are in the world, there’s likely a Beechcraft King Air near you that is flying under the coordination of the United States Army Operational Support Airlift Activity (OSA-A).
OSA-A plans, coordinates and conducts non-executive airlift for soldiers, civilians and light cargo for the Army, the Department of Defense and other government agencies. The C-12 Huron is the military designation for the King Air 200, and last year OSA-A coordinated about 22,000 flight hours among 46 dispatched C-12 aircraft.
“The C-12 has been deployed to just about every continent on the planet,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Smith, the C-12 standardization instructor pilot for the OSA-A Flight Detachment. “Be it flying high over the mountains of Afghanistan, moving critical people and equipment into and out of Kuwait, providing timely support to remote villages north of the Arctic Circle or the tropics of Asia, across the challenging mountains of Europe to the continent of Africa or remote jungles of Central and South America, chances are there’s an OSA C-12 near you providing mission-critical support.”
Formation of the OSA-A
The roots of the current day OSA-A formed in the 1990s as a field operating agency of the National Guard Bureau meant to consolidate the myriad of Army King Air aircraft that were executing non-executive fixed-wing travel. The organization enables each state a King Air program through the Air National Guard by a unity of effort in the areas of standardization, budget, maintenance, safety and mission.
OSA-A is an activity within The Army Aviation Brigade (TAAB), which combines the talents, training, equipment and leadership of the Army Reserve, National Guard and the Regular Army into a single aviation brigade. Maj. Ryan Rooks is a King Air pilot, UC-35 Citation instructor pilot and commander of the OSA-A Flight Detachment, or OFD, headquartered at Davison Army Airfield, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Rooks oversees training and missions that are executed under the OFD Aircrew Training Program (ATP). Thirty-two pilots are assigned to the program, including several staff aviators from the activity headquarters and TAAB headquarters.
Other supporting roles within operations are noncommissioned officer operation specialists, who deal with military air passenger/cargo requests from the Joint Operational Support Airlift Command and maintain flight records, flight publications, flight schedules and maintenance coordination.
DynCorp International contractors handle maintenance for the assigned King Air aircraft.
“The units in the States provide a tremendous amount of support to domestic operations requirements through the movement of time-sensitive, mission-critical passengers and cargo,” said Lt. Col. W. Darrell Rasor, the commander of OSA-A who spent 10 years deploying in the C-23 Sherpa and C-12 Huron. “Oftentimes the only means of transport of goods and passengers in and out of natural disaster relief efforts following hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes is on Army National Guard C-12s flown by state flight detachment aviators. Many of these state aircrews are also trained and ready to execute contingency operations in the United States in support of domestic operational requirements for homeland defense.”
Army’s history with the King Air
The first C-12A Huron models entered service with the U.S. Army in 1974, according to Rich Roling, one of OSA-A’s standardization instructor pilots and a retired Chief Warrant Officer 5 who has worked at OSA-A for more than 10 years. It took several years of acquisition to replace the Army’s aging fleet of King Air 90 aircraft designated U-21, which he said had first entered service for the Army in 1964.
The C-12 aircraft is essentially a Super King Air 200, powered by the type’s standard Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42 engines, with a commercial, off-the-shelf cargo floor system installed.
“The Army King Air has a large pallet accessible cargo door, a heavy-duty floor structure and cabin cargo liner making it an extremely versatile aircraft,” Roling said. “Some of those aircraft have been modified with surveillance systems for various non-OSA military missions.”
He added: “The majority of the current C-12 fleet were procured by the military between 1984 and 1986. The fleet has received periodic upgrades with most of them receiving at least two major modifications, particularly pertaining to avionics. The vast majority of our C-12s have a Rockwell Collins FMS-3000 system. The Army National Guard does have five C-12Vs that are the Pro Line 21 suite aircraft. They also serve in the same role as the rest of the fleet providing transport of personnel and limited cargo.”
The average age of the C-12 fleet is 32 years, with an average fleet total time of 16,989 hours. The high-time aircraft has more than 22,000 hours with the lowest having about 12,500 hours.
C-12 missions run the gamut
“Primarily within the operational support activity fleet, the King Air is used for non-executive travel while not deployed down range,” Smith said. “This means everyone from the lowest private to the highest general has and can continue to travel on our fleet at no cost to their unit. We also fly authorized civilian employees of the government and certain people designated as priority travelers who have time-critical deadlines.”
Smith added: “Of course, because of the King Air’s flexibility, we also can kit aircraft for military intelligence operations providing manned ISR to combatant commanders down range as well as meeting that critical logistical need of the last ‘tactical inch.’ Oftentimes, a critical warfighting part needs to arrive at that remote airfield, or a person needs to move within the theater of operations. We do that safely, quickly and with minimal cost to the American people.”
The King Air makes up more than 80 percent of the National Guard’s operational support airlift fleet. These aircraft are used for liaison and general personnel transport covering various duties, including embassy support, medical evacuation, as well as extensive passenger, VIP and light cargo transport.
During virtually every recent natural disaster in the United States and its territories where the National Guard assets have been mobilized, King Airs have provided personnel and cargo support. They are regularly used to move medical supplies and other critical equipment during state emergencies, and they routinely transport wounded warriors and blood as ongoing Army missions.
“Operational support activity has provided humanitarian and logistical support during national emergencies dating all the way back to the adoption of the C-12 into the fleet,” Roling said. “With right around 1,500 pounds of payload and our extended 14,000 MGTOW, you name it, we’ve probably flown it. We’ve flown doctors into affected areas; delivered critical leaders, equipment and supplies; and even provided aerial overflights of affected areas so that our leaders can get a full picture of the magnitude of damage.”
He added: “Sometimes the most rewarding experience is bringing Amazon boxes to a remote airfield in a faraway country to support our soldiers who are embedded with their host nation counterparts. A small piece of home to a deployed soldier can give them the strength to push on, knowing that when they need something, we’ll be there.”
Another important role for the C-12 is to train Army pilots who initially begin their pilot training flying the various rotary wing aircraft that composes 95 percent of the Army’s total aviation fleet. Those pilots that are chosen to fly the Army’s fixed-wing aircraft attend an additional fixed-wing qualification course.
“As the Army’s go-to aircraft for initial fixed-wing qualification training, the rugged durability and payload capability combined with low operating costs make the King Air an incredibly valuable tool in our capabilities spectrum,” Smith said.
“Within the fixed-wing fleet, we provide recurrent training through our contracted ground schools and simulators, as well as short field, mountainous operations, upset recovery and prevention training and international flight training in powered aircraft,” he said. “This critical training, as well as the aircrew centric training model, combine to provide a very experienced aviator who is able to not only avoid potential crises, but keep calm and make life-saving decisions if the worst happens. This is why so many commercial operators recognize the value of our military pilots and often directly recruit them to complement their flight departments.”