Project Liberty MC-12 says "Goodbye" to Meridian

  • Published
  • 186th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office
The last of the familiar gray MC-12 aircraft departed the ramp early 10 June bringing to end another historical event at Key Field Air National Guard Base, MS. The aircraft headed to Beale Air Force Base, California, the new home of tactical manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) training.

Designed to augment information gathered by other intelligence collections operations, the MC-12 provides real-time full motion video and signals intelligence allowing rapid decision making and response on the battlefield. Since delivery of the first aircraft to the 186th Air Refueling Wing in late April 2009, the MC-12s have executed over 5,600 accident free training sorties and over 10,000 flight hours in the skies over Meridian.

The "temporary" training program began in earnest in October 2008 when the National Guard Bureau contacted base leadership about the possibility of utilizing Meridian-based crew members who posses extensive ISR experience in a similar aircraft, the RC-26,to train active duty aviators. But before this assignment could get off the ground, many tasks had to be completed. A full evaluation of the base facilities, ramp space for aircraft, personnel strength, and weather patterns at Key Field had to be performed. These evaluations normally last anywhere from six months to one year. They had to be completed in two weeks.

"When you think about how (the evaluations) were done in a two week period, as far as the planning stage goes, it was a mad house," said Lt Col. Mike Nabors, Wing Air Operations Officer with the 186 ARW. "We had some sharp people that were involved in the planning process."

The two-and-a-half year training program developed into a "bridge" mission maintaining critical manpower support as the 186th Air Refueling Wing awaited arrival of the C-27J transport aircraft this October. The training was a seven day-a-week effort requiring approximately 100 guardsmen, 25 civilian instructors and up to 50 civilian aircraft maintainers. Upon course completion most of the more than 1,250 graduates immediately deployed to support U.S. and Coalition efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"What the students were trained with at Key Field is what they saw in the field," said Lt Col. Nabors. "This wouldn't be possible without all of these pieces coming together."

The name Project Liberty was derived from the Liberty cargo ships built by the United States during World War II. The ships were cheap and quick to build and symbolized U.S. wartime industrial output. The MC-12 is the fastest combat weapon system delivered since the P-51 Mustang during World War II, from funding approval to combat in less than eight months. The entire operational fleet of 30 aircraft was deployed in only 13 months.

Student training at Beale Air Force Base resumed in mid-June.