On 16 November NATO's last Boeing 707-320C Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCA) conducted its symbolic final flights from NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, Germany. Brigadier General Burkhard Pototzky, Commander of the E-3A Component, took the chance to invite representatives from our surrounding communities in Germany and the Netherlands to attend these ceremonial flights and to look back on more than two decades of a great success story. "Our TCA might be old, but it is gold", said the Component Commander, summarizing the TCA story which is going to end soon.
A special highlight on 16 November was the flight in the afternoon to which disabled children, inhabitants of the Ronald McDonald house in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and children from Lebenshilfe e.V. Heinsberg, Germany, were invited. "Our guests had a great afternoon flying with our TCA. My greatest wish is that we were able to give them a moment of not thinking about their handicap or illness", said Brig.Gen. Pototzky.
TCA is a NATO success story. Since the first TCA landed on 10 October 1988, the squadron's regular task has been to conduct training flights as well as cargo missions and passenger transport. The three TCAs thereby provided overall support to E-3A operations.
TCA made history too. In 1992, shortly after the end of the Cold War, TCA took medical assessment experts to Russia to determine requirements for humanitarian assistance. Thus the first chapter of TCA support for humanitarian relief operations was written.
The next chapter was the TCA flight in 1996 to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. TCA was the first aircraft bearing NATO insignia to land in Sarajevo in support of peacekeeping operations. The Boeing 707-320C brought with it tons of humanitarian aid.
The list of TCA support flights for humanitarian relief operations is long: Humanitarian aid after the devasting earthquake in Turkey in 1999, transport of aid to the USA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, humanitarian aid for Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, support of the initial humanitarian relief operations in Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005 and also after the disastrous floods there in 2010, transport of humanitarian relief goods to Hungary after the collapse of a dam holding
contaminated water from an aluminium factory resulted in the devastation of two villages.
Brig.Gen. Pototzky has rightly called TCA the "true work horse of the E-3A Component". Since the first TCA landed at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in October 1988, the TCA Squadron has flown a total of more than 32,000 hrs. "The squadron has provided a critical lifeline carrying supplies and people for ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the recently completed operations in Libya", said the Component Commander, adding "The flexibility and ability of the TCA Squadron has truly been a force multiplier and a critical link between the Component and our forward deployed units".
The TCA story is soon coming to an end. The penultimate TCA left Geilenkirchen in September 2011. The last TCA, tail 20199, will leave the Component at the end of the year. But TCA will be always remembered for its awesome contributions to humanitarian assistance and for having served as a force multiplier for the E-3A Component over more than two decades.