In the late 1980s the participating nations provided the NAEW E-3A Component with three additional support aircraft for training and operation to augment the eighteen E-3As. The three Boeing B-707 aircraft were purchased from SABENA and were termed Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCA). The first aircraft was delivered in October 1988. The third aircraft arrived at the Component in December 1989.
Responsibility for TCA operations and training was assigned to Operations Wing Trainer Cargo Division (OWTC). Operation of the aircraft required two pilots, six flight engineers, six load masters and one civilian administrative specialist permanently assigned to the TCA Division from another E-3A Component post. Other TCA pilots were provided by Operations Wing and Training Wing, as required.
In the early days of OWTC the TCAs were tasked to fly both training and cargo sorties at the ratio of two training sorties to one cargo sortie. However, towards the end of 1990, world events dictated new emphasis in TCA operations. The true versatility of the B-707 was realized and the aircraft flew additional cargo/passenger sorties in support of Operation Anchor Guard.
After a brief respite the Component was again involved in an international role during the conflict in the Balkans. E-3A operations in this theatre would not have been possible without the valuable support of the TCAs. In 1995, the TCAs were fitted with an air-to-air-refueling receptacle which has allowed essential training for the E-3A pilots. International politics also provided an opportunity for the aircraft to be involved in supplying humanitarian aid to the former USSR, with sorties being flown as far east as Ulan Ude, in outer Mongolia.
In order to provide the necessary training for the E-3A crews, international exercises have taken place as far as the Caribbean, North America and Canada. The TCAs were constantly utilized in the support of these exercises. The year 1999 saw changes to the Component’s TCAs in terms of new equipment and personnel. Two B-707s from the German Air Force, fitted with updated navigation equipment and radios, replaced the two oldest TCAs. The arrival of our military colleagues from Spain allowed OWTC to expand and restructure to become a squadron to better serve the needs of the Component.
The TCA Squadron was formed on 20 March 2000. Commanded by a Spanish Lieutenant Colonel and designated Squadron 5, the TCA Squadron became an integral part of the NAEW&CF, supporting both the E-3A and E-3D Components.
After the terrorist attacks in the USA in September 2001, NATO assisted the Americans’ homeland defense with Operation Eagle Assist in which E-3A Component assets deployed to Tinker AFB. The TCA Squadron was responsible for sustainment of this deployment, carrying Component personnel and equipment on a bi-weekly basis between Geilenkirchen and Tinker AFB. It was a challenging task, flying continuously through the week and requiring crew duty periods of between 18 and 20 hours.
Operation Eagle Assist (October 2001 - May 2002) required 44 TCA missions, and only one mission was delayed. This was without doubt the TCA Squadron's first real test, much was learnt and much was achieved. In the final analysis the E-3A Component relied heavily on the TCA Squadron and its personnel.
In the year 2003, TCA Squadron’s Cargo Movements Section was the first to participate in ISAF support. On 11 August 2003, NATO took over the lead of the International Stabilization Force from the German-Netherlands Corps in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a quantity of cargo was shipped there through the TCA Sqn Cargo Movements Section. Abbreviations like IFOR, SFOR, or KFOR were already very familiar to the “Cargo Movers” providing this support.
In 2004 the AWACS continued providing security around the world, and in March 2005 the Component safeguarded the Istanbul Summit, the international summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security organized by the Club of Madrid. For these operations too, the TCAs provided essential support.
On 12 September 2005, less than 36 hours after receiving notification from SHAPE that the NATO Response Force had been activated to assist relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, a TCA Aircraft arrived at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, and unloaded the supplies it had picked up in Prague, Czech Republic. After that first flight, the effort continued and 116 tons of critical supplies were delivered on 9 other flights scheduled over three weeks. Each mission required more than 20 hours of flying time. The TCA also flew to Ramstein AFB, Germany, to pick up and forward cargo donated by NATO Allies.
The implementation of a new autopilot system just one month previously was very helpful for crossing the Atlantic. The TCA aircraft thus acquired a Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM) capability.
Without further rest, additional humanitarian missions required NATO and TCA participation, this time in Asia. On 12 October 2005, a TCA departed from Geilenkirchen Air Base to pick up aid supplies in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to take them to Islamabad, Pakistan, to help earthquake victims there. In spite of many challenges, all of the supplies were delivered.
The year 2008 saw another milestone for TCA, its first around-the-world flight. On 10 June 2008, in support of the Component’s participation in Exercise Pitch Black, a TCA landed in Geilenkirchen after flying from NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen to Iceland, the US state of Washington, Hawaii, Guam, Australia, Indonesia, Diego Garcia, Dubai and back, for a total of 36.277 km and 49.2 flying hours. The TCA flight to Australia provided logistics support for the E-3A operations and included the transport of 50 Component personnel and more than 11.5 tons of cargo consisting mainly of E-3A maintenance equipment. The year 2008 was also special because the TCA Squadron celebrated its 20th Anniversary. This event, also attended by former Squadron members, took place on 23rd August 2008.
In the year of 2009, TCA Squadron leadership was assigned to the Italian Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Massimiliano Macioce. Under his command, and with a flight line of three TCAs, the Squadron faced the first ISAF support missions in the history of the NAEW & C E3A Component.
From December 2009 through February 2010, the TCA Squadron was tasked to support the British E-3D deployment to Thumrait Airbase, Oman, for ISAF Operations. Missions were accomplished as shuttle flights from Geilenkirchen and Waddington to FOB Konya where a slip-crew was waiting to take the passengers and freight to Thumrait. Not a single flight was lost during the intense three-month period of tasking.
This ISAF support mission highlighted once again the flexibility and reliability of the TCA. Not only the crews, but also Cargo Movement and Flight Booking personnel, and last but not least the SABENA-IAMCO technicians did their utmost to make the mission a success.
A new day, a new mission: the images from the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 are well known. After this catastrophic event the TCA Squadron played an important role, flying its first humanitarian aid flight on 27 January 2010. TCA flights continued on 10 and 13 of April 2010 via Miami, providing an air bridge in “hot-turn” operations. Even an engine replacement was performed quickly in Miami by the TCA technicians to keep the air bridge going. Again, TCA personnel shone with excellent mission planning, readiness and professional competency. Some numbers for this mission are: 5 missions with a total of 21 flights (112.2 flying hrs), 19 passengers and 35 pallets, a total of 53,320 kg.
The year 2010 was marked by the start of TCA fleet decommissioning. On 9 August, at 06:45 Zulu, TCA tail LX-N 19997, was flown to the “boneyard” at Davis Monthan AMARC, Arizona, after a lifetime of 36,207.6 hours. This involved a TCA record non-stop flight of 11.4 hrs, at the end of which the aircraft landed, uneventfully, at its final parking destination.
In August 2010, the TCA was involved in the Pakistan flood relief effort, which commenced after the devastating flooding in that country. On 22 August 2010, a TCA took off from Geilenkirchen with 9 tons of humanitarian goods sponsored by the Republic of Slovakia. The flight, executed directly to Islamabad, Pakistan, kept the crew on duty for 19 hrs and 40 minutes, another aviation record. The subsequent flight, carrying 20 tons of aid, was accomplished on 30 August. Operations did not stop, and humanitarian aid support to Pakistan continued into September and October 2010. 21 passengers and 73 pallets with a total of 140,267 kg of humanitarian aid were delivered in 38 flights (184.6 flying hours). These flights gave NATO high positive visibility in the press and earned great appreciation for a job well done from the Pakistani Government, United Nations and the international community.
On 30 August 2010, TCA Squadron leadership returned to Spanish command under Lieutenant Colonel Andres Gamboa.
At the beginning of December 2010, a flood of toxic red sludge from Ajka aluminium plant in the west of Hungary caused serious damage and the displacement of thousands of people. Roads were flooded or washed out with red slush and people’s livelihoods were lost. The E-3A Component mobilized a donation campaign for the people in need. TCA had the honor of flying into Papa Air Base, Hungary, to deliver the NATO AWACS contribution on 14 December.
The year 2011 did not have an easy, quiet start. The E-3A Component became involved in ISAF operations and the TCA became a key element in supporting Operation Afghan Assist (OAA). Two important milestones took place during operation OAA: on 14 January, TCA tail LX-N 20199 was the first Component aircraft landed at Mazar-e-Sharif (Afghanistan), and on 2 March the northern route through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan was flown for the first time. Throughout the year, TCA worked on a robust schedule, flying into Afghanistan every other week to ensure the best possible support for the troops in theatre.
To date the TCA performed 69 missions, 153 sorties, 642.6 flying hours, carrying 2947 passengers, and 408 pallets with a total of 830,227 kg of supplies for ISAF.
On 8 April, 2011 during Operation Unified Protector, the TCA became actively involved in support of the E-3D re-deployment from Akrotiri to FOB Trapani. TCA became the first NATO labeled aircraft which landed at Akritori Base at Cyprus. Following this, the TCA continued to provide a weekly shuttle service from MOB Geilenkirchen via RAF Waddington to FOB Trapani, Sicily, requiring approx. 7.5 flying hours and 14.5 duty hours. This Operation ended on 31 October 2011. TCA numbers for OUP were as follows: 59 missions, 196 sorties, 409.2 flying hours, 3,594 passengers, and 241 pallets with a total payload of 600 tons.
On 26 September TCA tail LX-N 2000 was flown to her final destination at Ingolstadt. She was delivered to her new owners WTD61, a test facility which will use her to train apprentice aircraft technicians. She landed with 43,124 flying house on the clock, having arrived at the Component with 37,474 hrs 12 years earlier having given 5,650 hrs of service. She was originally built in December 1968.
As the TCAs of the Component approached the end of their service a special flight to commemorate this was flown on 16 November 2011. In the morning local representatives of the German and Netherlands communities were flown to RAF Mildenhall in the UK and back, to give them an appreciation of what our TCAs have achieved. In the afternoon a special flight following the same profile took children from the Ronald McDonald house in Maastricht and the Lebenshilfe e.V Heinsberg on a 2.4 hr flight. The children had a great time flying in this “Old Lady”, taking a rare opportunity in these modern times to visit the flight deck.
TCA history has not finished yet, although Flying Squadron 4 stood down on 9 December 2011. Tail LX-N 20199 and TCA personnel continued supporting our troops in theater until 22 December, when the last tail was flown to Maastricht Airport in the Netherlands, where it was handed over to the Aviation Competence Centre (ACC), which will use specific parts of this airplane for training purposes.
Squadron 4 personnel have always been proud to be "the first in, last out" in any operational setting.
History of Trainer Cargo Aircraft Squadron (Squadron 4)