Operation Cope Thaw: a pilot's chance to advance

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  • 47th Flying Training Wing

Airmen from Laughlin Air Force Base integrated with units from the 97th Air Mobility Wing, Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to begin a short-notice deployment exercise dubbed Operation Cope Thaw, which kicked off Feb. 2. 


The multi-day event will provide off-station mission exposure for pilots and maintainers from Laughlin’s 47th Flying Training Wing. Eighteen of the base’s T-38C Talons were joined by a C-17 Globemaster III from Altus before the group set out for Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Arizona. 


Operation Cope Thaw is a unique opportunity for pilots to gain knowledge and experience beyond the scope of their daily undergraduate pilot training mission. It also serves as an introduction to Agile Combat Employment concepts, which is an Air Force concept of rapidly moving and readying forces anytime and anywhere. 


“Our mission is to produce the highest quality warfighting aviator that we can, and we are really trying to develop critical skills and adaptability out at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport,” said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Philip Boje, 87th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot and Operation Cope Thaw deputy mission commander. “I think that supporting the UPT mission in a different environment is a great way to achieve that goal.”


During their time in Arizona, the instructor pilots and students will integrate UPT learning objectives including developing Airmanship, learning to adapt to changes, and overcoming challenges within a specific mission.


“This is a great opportunity for everyone involved and it's great to see everyone’s work they have put in to have this operation come together,” said Boje. “It proves that we can go out and operate elsewhere safely and effectively, even if we have bad weather or aren’t able to complete our mission back home for whatever reason.”


Logistical coordination began several days before departure when Airmen from Altus arrived at Laughlin and began to train and prepare for the mission ahead. This preparation involved equipment loading and palletizing training to familiarize all personnel involved.


“The whole goal of these briefings and training was really safety,” said Boje. “We want to have a set game plan so that we have mission success and make sure that all personnel get back on the ground safely while also accomplishing the objectives that were tasked with each individual sortie.”


An Altus C-17 touched down at Laughlin’s airfield on Feb. 1 and was loaded with aircraft maintenance equipment, including auxiliary power units and spare aircraft parts prior to departing to Arizona. Airmen from Laughlin’s 47th Medical Group, 47th Operation Support Squadron’s Aircrew Flight Equipment and Squadron Aviation Resource Management, and the 47th Maintenance Directorate also traveled to Arizona to provide operational support. 


“No one here has ever really done this before, so everyone involved is figuring out a way to make it a more successful operation in the future,” said Boje. “That way we can set an example and pave the way for other bases that might want to do something like this later on.”


Throughout the exercise, Airmen will train and learn valuable skills while continuing to conduct effective, safe and disciplined flying training operations and mission assurance activities.