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NEWS | Sept. 16, 2020

Hawaii airlift unit uses flares in astronaut rescue training

By Staff Sgt. Orlando Corpuz 154th Wing

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – The Hawaii Air National Guard [HIANG] 204th Airlift Squadron added area illuminating flares to its rescue repertoire during a flare training operation off the coast of Oahu Aug. 27.

The flares enhance the airlift squadron's ability to conduct contingency astronaut rescue operations in any lighting conditions while supporting NASA's SpaceX Human Space Flight program.

"We need to be able to locate the capsule at night, low-light, or in adverse weather conditions," said Tech. Sgt. Makaio Roberts, 204th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "We have to drop these flares or smoke markers so we can mark and keep the capsule in sight and not lose it in these conditions."

To rescue astronauts, a pre-staged C-17 would launch with a pararescuemen team, known as PJs. Once the astronaut capsule was located, the PJs would parachute with their equipment from the back of the C-17 to execute rescue operations.

Should the rescue happen in low or no-light conditions, loadmasters cast out the flares from the edge of the C-17 ramp. The flares have parachutes, so they float down while illuminating the surface.

The flare produces 1.8 million candlepower of illumination for four to five minutes and, depending on altitude, can illuminate an area up to 1,000 feet in diameter, according to the manufacturer.

"Astronaut rescue can happen at any time, whether it be daytime or night," Roberts said. "So to be able to light up the night sky is a huge capability for rescue operations."

While the 204th always had loadmasters with flare experience, the training allowed additional crew to be certified in the use of the flares.

The 204th is one of only two squadrons in the nation able to conduct C-17 rescue operations for NASA's Human Space Flight program.

"We stood on alert when the astronauts first went up and again when they came back home just recently," said Roberts. "When they do it again, we'll be ready ... day or night."



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