‘MedEx’ ready for it all
NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Sicily – There isn’t much that is sexy or glamorous about the job they do, said U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Bill Roark.
"In terms of flying, we’re not flying onto carriers and we’re not flying jets. But what we do is very important in support of the mission here flying people and cargo," said Roark, one of 10 pilots assigned to the Naval Air Station Sigonella-based "MedEx," short for Mediterranean Express.
The squadron of pilots and five aircrew fly two C-26 turboprop engine aircraft, ferrying anything from VIPs to troops en route to training and cargo consisting of weapons, needed ship parts or hazardous materials, to name a few.
Once, Roark had to fly a military working dog from Sigonella to Souda Bay, Crete, a rare passenger for the crew, he said. En route, the anxious dog managed to slip from his crate, slither through a flap separating the cargo hold from the main cabin, and sit next to his handler, he recalled.
On his way back, Roark transported another dog.
The U.S. Navy’s C-26 fleets are located in Europe and Hawaii. The four C-26D aircraft in Europe — two each at Sigonella and Naples, Italy — provide rapid-response cargo and passenger transportation.
Two RC-26D aircraft and one EC-26D aircraft in Hawaii support range operations at Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands.
The Sigonella-based crews have flown as far north as Norway, as far south as Morocco and as far east as Turkey, trips that average from two to four hours or so.
Years ago, the Navy divested its fleet of C-12 Beechcraft airplanes in Europe for the larger C-26 Metroliners, a cost-saving measure since the C-26s consume roughly the same amount of fuel but can transport larger cargo loads and more passengers, said Roark, 43.
Hopping a flight with the Naples-based crew — who fly more flag officers and VIPs — offers passengers a luxury not available on the Sigonella-based aircraft: toilets.
"We always tell passengers to take care of business before they board," Roark said.
In the event of a need-to-go-now emergency, they have a backup plan. They’re called "piddle packs," explained fellow pilot Lt. Danny Abad, 29. The bags are stuffed with the same material found in diapers.
The crews are busy, flying as many as four or five days a week, they said.
And when possible, they transport space-available passengers between Navy bases throughout Europe.