Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar --
A small twin turbofan engine aircraft flies high above the Middle East transporting passengers to various bases across the U.S. Central Command’s Area Of Responsibility. This is the mission of the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron’s C-21.
With an aircrew that consists of only two pilots, the C-21 is primarily used to deliver members of leadership most commonly consisting of general officers or their civilian counterparts, quickly and efficiently to bases across the AOR. Able to carry up to eight passengers, the C-21 is the U.S. Air Force’s quickest and easiest option for moving small groups of distinguished visitors in the Middle East. Currently, the number one customer of the C-21 unit at AUAB is Lt. Gen. Jeffery L. Harrigian, U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander and Air Component commander for CENTCOM, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. David Nahom.
The C-21s also have the capability of taking two litter patients and an aeromedical team comprised of a nurse, a medical technician and their medical equipment.
According to Lt. Col. Curt Schumacher, the C-21 operations officer for the 746th EAS, the C-21s have become busier in the past few years because they have opened their transport to 0-6s and E-9s.
“We have seen an increase in operations tempo, by increasing the span of our customers.”
As of now, the C-21 can only be found at three U.S. Air Force installations: Scott AFB in Illinois, Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, and Ramstein AB in Germany.
The C-21s are a unique airframe for the Air Force as all of the aircraft’s maintenance is done by civilian contractors. However, since the fleet of C-21s is small, sometimes parts can be hard to come by, and getting those parts in a deployed location can make it even more difficult.
"For us, the biggest challenge has been parts shipments for our aircraft,” Schumacher said. “Which has led to our aircraft sometimes being down for 2 or 3 weeks while we wait for parts to arrive. This is mostly an attribute of the unique aircraft we fly...and the fact that most of the parts we need, come from commercial suppliers back in the continental United States."
Like the aircraft, the patch that the C-21 pilots wear is very unique as well, adorned with a fish on fire, which is called the Firebass. The bottom of the patch states 'Here Today Here Tomorrow' which is fitting for the C-21 presence in the CENTCOM AOR.
“While some of the other airframes come and go, the C-21 has had a continuous presence that traces back to when the AFCENT Headquarters was at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia...and I can guarantee you that C-21s and C-21 pilots will be here for the foreseeable future."