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What is a Flight Manager?

By MS. JENNIFER YATES, 618 AOC Chief of Safety, and MS. KIM KNIGHT, Staff Writer

If you are an AMC aircrew member, you have most likely had some interaction with the 618th Air Operations Center (AOC) and thereby a flight manager. Flight managers (FMs) reside under the Command and Control Directorate within the 618 AOC and provide dispatch-like services to AMC-allocated missions.

What does this mean? FMs prepare, publish, and transmit accurate and complete aircrew departure papers for assigned mission legs and provide proactive flight following while aircraft are airborne. They provide a verbal aircrew briefing prior to sortie departure and support to the aircrew during flight when requested by the aircraft commander.

Flight managers begin tracking a mission six hours prior to takeoff. At that time, the flight route, cargo weight, diplomatic clearances, alternate routes, potential flight approaches, and nearly every detail of the mission would be received. Unfortunately, much of the time components are missing. Throw in bad weather and a broken aircraft and the entire house of cards begins to collapse.

The tools FMs use to plan missions have evolved through the years but not without some growing pains. Advanced Computer Flight Plan (ACFP) was used for approximately 18 years and shut down in February 2019. The new Mobility Air Force‚Äôs Automated Flight Planning Service (MAFPS) is vastly different than ACFP; it is very complex, and has more automated and advanced planning tools such as Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) overlay, weather overlay, and route avoidance. Due to the increased bandwidth that MAFPS requires, it is currently slower  than ACFP and therefore reduces the number of missions an FM can plan or replan in a workday.

FMs do this day in and day out, averaging about five missions a shift to plan and an additional five missions to flight follow.

Recently, flight managers from 618 AOC were interviewed about their duties. When asked what their most difficult missions were to plan, Ed Bohrmann, Clark Neitzel, and Mike Kolodka said Guantanamo (aka Gitmo) detainee moves were the most difficult due to the constraints on where they could fly, use of double air refueling, and working through ACFP to run a flight plan. Really any mission with multiple stops to remote locations, distinguished visitors on board, and countries with extensive diplomatic clearance procedures can make a mission difficult, according to the FMs.

Not only have flight planning tools changed but so have the guidance and training FMs receive. Bohrmann and five other FMs are developing an operations manual to pull guidance from various instructional sources into one document and better define the FM roles and responsibilities. The original course in 2001 that an FM received was six weeks. Now, their course contains an additional eight to nine weeks to focus on ins and outs of potential missions, followed by an additional two weeks on the 618 AOC floor working each shift. The lead FM then receives a recommendation from the instructor that the FM-in-training is ready for evaluation, and the first FM evaluation, also known as a checkride, is initiated. FM training and evaluation is similar to the aircrew 17-month cycle. FMs take a series of tests before the checkride, similar to the aircrew open or closed book tests. Then they complete the checkride administered by an AMC/A3V Standardization and Evaluation evaluator.

The majority of FMs are retired aircrew members, and for them, becoming an FM is a natural progression. They go from being an aircrew member on the aircraft to a virtual aircrew member performing many of the same duties.

Bohrmann, Neitzel, and Kolodka are great examples of that progression. Bohrmann has 25 years of active duty experience including time as a flight engineer on the C-5 and C-141 and a navigator on the EC-135, KC-135, and RC-135. Neitzel has 26 years of active duty experience including time as a B-52 flying crew chief and flight engineer on the C-141 and KC-10. Kolodka has 15 years of experience as a pilot in the KC-135; he first transitioned to the 618 AOC while on active duty. His next job was as a 627th Air Mobility Control Center (AMCC) Command Post Chief at Mildenhall. He later transferred back into the 618 AOC Air Refueling Operations branch prior to retiring from active duty.

According to the FMs, it is much easier to clarify details at ground zero rather than when the aircrew is on the aircraft with fewer communication tools at their disposal, and the mission is presenting its own challenges. To minimize potential issues, FMs stressed that aircrews must read their crew papers and call the FM for their verbal aircrew briefing prior to departure. Any itinerary changes requested by the crew, specifically changes that affect diplomatic clearances, are particularly difficult and may have lead time requirements that cannot be met. For these types of missions it is even more critical that aircrews contact the FM when the aircrew completes a leg of the mission or as soon as they are aware of any itinerary changes. Aircrew discussion prior to starting crew rest allows FMs an additional 12 hours to coordinate changes.

All three FMs emphasized that their favorite part of the job is helping the crews, and they appreciate that no two days are the same in this job. They also enjoy the gratification of being able to take some of the workload off of the crews. They love what they do and want to help where they can.