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Small Reserve unit restores air traffic in Puerto Rico

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers work at San Juan Center, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017. The controllers were communicating with aircraft utilizing a communications link provided by the Air National Guard. The Air National Guard is working with numerous federal and local agencies, such as the FAA, during the recovery effort on Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers work at San Juan Center, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017. The controllers communicated with aircraft utilizing a communications link provided by the Air National Guard. Members of the 1st Aviation Standards Flight, Air Force Reserve Command, shuttled the controllers around the islands to provide air traffic capabilities.The Air Reserve Component is working with numerous federal and local agencies, such as the FAA, during the recovery effort on Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

A damaged aircraft lays overturned on the flightline at the Cyril E. King airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, following Hurricane Maria Sept. 26, 2017.

A damaged aircraft lays overturned on the flightline at the Cyril E. King airport in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, following Hurricane Maria Sept. 26, 2017. Reservists from the 1st Aviation Standards Flight, Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City, helped keep air traffic running smoothly by providing transportation to air traffic controllers and delivering parts following the storm. (U.S. Air Force photo/Lt. Col. James Hawley)

The U.S. and Puerto Rico flags flap in a stiff breeze in front of the radar tower operated by 140th Air Defense Support Squadron in Aguadilla,

The U.S. and Puerto Rico flags flap in a stiff breeze in front of the radar tower operated by 140th Air Defense Support Squadron in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The 140th is a component of the Puerto Rico Air National Guard. The radar was returned to service following Hurricane Maria and imagery from the tower was provided to the FAA to assist with air traffic control in the island. (Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

Airmen look at a satellite dish.

Two airmen observe a communications satellite dish established at the San Juan International Airport in Puerto Rico by an Air National Guard unit from Wisconsin, Sept. 27, 2017. Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers are communicating with aircraft using a communications link provided by the Air National Guard. Reservists from the 1st Aviation Standards Flight, Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City, helped keep air traffic running smoothly by providing transportation to air traffic controllers following the storm. The 1st ASF works in tandem with the FAA, flying the FAA’s aircraft and performing flight inspections of navigational aids, radar and flight instruments at military and civilian installations in the United States and overseas. (Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton)

A National Guard convoy rolls out of the armory in St. Croix, U.S Virgin Islands in order to provide aid to the local community, September 28, 2017. Hurricane Maria left many on the island without food or water. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ferreira/Released)

A National Guard convoy rolls out of the armory in St. Croix, U.S Virgin Islands in order to provide aid to the local community, September 28, 2017. Reservists from the 1st Aviation Standards Flight, Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City, helped keep air traffic running smoothly by providing transportation to air traffic controllers following the storm. The 1st ASF works in tandem with the Federal Aviation Administration, flying the FAA’s aircraft and performing flight inspections of navigational aids, radar and flight instruments at military and civilian installations in the United States and overseas. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ferreira)

Debris piles in front of a local park in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, due to Hurricane Maria, September 28, 2017. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ferreira/Released)

Debris piles in front of a local park in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, due to Hurricane Maria, September 28, 2017. Reservists from the 1st Aviation Standards Flight, Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City, helped keep air traffic running smoothly by providing transportation to air traffic controllers following the storm. The 1st ASF works in tandem with the Federal Aviation Administration, flying the FAA’s aircraft and performing flight inspections of navigational aids, radar and flight instruments at military and civilian installations in the United States and overseas. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Ferreira/Released)

A Bombardier Challenger flown by a 1st Aviation Standards Flight crew, flies over McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 1st ASF is a small team of reservists performing critical inspections to ensure aircraft take off and land safely in locations all around the world.  They are the only teams in the world qualified to inspect McMurdo Station. (Courtesy Photo)

A Bombardier Challenger flown by a 1st Aviation Standards Flight crew, flies over McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The 1st ASF is a small team of reservists stationed at Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City, performing critical inspections to ensure aircraft take off and land safely in locations all around the world. (Courtesy photo)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- As Hurricane Maria battered the U.S. Virgin Island St. Croix, a small Reserve unit from Oklahoma raced to Puerto Rico on Sept. 19, to evacuate air traffic controllers before the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years, made landfall.

Lt. Col. Greg Baur, a Reserve Citizen Airman and combat flight inspection pilot assigned to the 1st Aviation Standards Flight at Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City, was the first in his unit to respond.

The 1st ASF works in tandem with the Federal Aviation Administration, flying the FAA’s aircraft and performing flight inspections of navigational aids, radar and flight instruments at military and civilian installations in the United States and overseas.

Baur performed six round-trip flights, shuttling air traffic controllers out of Puerto Rico ahead of the storm.

“I flew the Bombardier Challenger 601 to evacuate eight air traffic controllers out of Puerto Rico before landfall of Hurricane Maria, then transported them to Miami to set up a temporary air traffic control relay to remotely control air traffic from the U.S.,” said Baur.

Baur also transported controllers to nearby St. Thomas, and described the scene at the Cyril E. King Airport there.

“There were small general aviation airplanes in ditches, upside down, demolished on the airfield,” Baur said. “It looked a little bit like a war zone. We were shuttling folks back and forth, trying to get operations up and running.”

Commander of the 1st ASF, Lt. Col. James Hawley, along with another pilot and one maintenance technician, departed Oklahoma City three days later to support 1st ASF and FAA operations in Puerto Rico.

“We transported FAA employees, radar technicians, air traffic controllers, parts for radars, parts for air traffic control towers, generators and anything they needed to get the air space up and running again,” Hawley said.

They flew the Challenger from Oklahoma City to Wyoming to pick up a radar component before flying to San Juan, Puerto Rico, transporting personnel and delivering parts to the areas devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“It’s a little plane,” Hawley said. “It can hold about six passengers. We flew smaller parts down and big stuff was taken by the big boys: C-130s, C-5s and C-17s.”

According to Hawley, they flew air traffic controllers from San Juan International Airport, Puerto Rico, to St. Thomas every morning to open up the tower for other aircraft, heading back to San Juan in the evenings because of the dire living conditions in St. Thomas. The aircrew then returned to Ft. Lauderdale to rest each night, due to the lack of lodging available from the large amount of emergency response teams in the area.

They also shuttled personnel from San Juan to St. Croix.

“We transported FAA assessment technicians to the Virgin Islands so the technicians could inspect the airfields in order to begin the process of rebuilding and safely running operations again,” Hawley said.

Although the primary mission of the 1st ASF is to perform flight inspections of navigational aids, they did not perform that mission in Puerto Rico because of the condition of the facilities.

“There’s no way we can do certifications right now, because we are still flying-in relief and supplies,” Hawley said. “When we fly flight inspections, it takes up a lot of air space and time. Right now, they need to get relief.”

Since the departure of the Reserve Citizen Airmen in the 1st ASF, the FAA will continue transportation operations in Puerto Rico, while the 1st ASF travels to Antarctica, Europe and the Pacific in support of other taskings, according to Hawley.

In Antarctica, Hawley and one other pilot will flight inspect navigational aids, so that other aircraft can fly under what is known as instrument flight rules conditions, or IFR, rather than visual flight rules, or VFR.

“When the weather is cloudy or unfavorable, navigational aids send out a signal to the airplanes, helping pilots locate the airport so they can land safely with limited or no visibility,” Hawley said.

The 507th Air Refueling Wing here administratively supports the 1st ASF, located at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City. The 1st ASF falls under the 413th Flight Test Group, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. The flight operates from Will Rogers International World Airport, Oklahoma City, and augments the Air Force Flight Standards Agency Detachment 1, the on-site active duty unit. The 1st ASF consists of approximately 23 people who fly and help maintain the FAA’s Bombardier Challenger 601, 604 and 605.