Rumsfeld Uses 'Flying Pentagon' To Communicate During Trips
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld likes to take his office with him and stay connected to events on the ground when he flies overseas to visit with troops and confer with U.S. and allied military and civilian officials.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Noah P. Carpenter, an airborne communications noncommissioned officer, left, and Master Sgt. Gregory S. Grieser, superintendent of airborne communications, check out a phone line connection July 24 aboard Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's E-4B aircraft during the secretary's recent trip to Central Asia and Iraq. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Rumsfeld's "flying Pentagon" of choice is an Air Force E-4B aircraft, a highly modified Boeing 747-200 four-engine jet. Known as the National Airborne Operations Center, the plane boasts sophisticated communications equipment as well as the capability to be refueled in flight.
The commander of the NAOC, Army Col. David L. Molinelli, pointed out July 24 during Rumsfeld's recent trip to Central Asia and Iraq that use of the converted 747 enables the secretary to conduct a variety of secure communications with senior government and military officials back on the ground. The NAOC, the colonel said, is a joint-service organization with headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., with the E4Bs assigned to the 55th Wing there.
"We have the day-to-day mission of the backup to the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon" in case of a national emergency, Molinelli explained. "We also provide support to the secretary of defense for his travel when we have aircraft available to do so."
The E-4B has "a more robust communications platform" than other available aircraft, Molinelli noted, including video-teleconferencing capability that provides Rumsfeld with "a link back to his office and his subject-matter experts" at the Pentagon. And the aircraft's capability to be refueled in flight can save the secretary "almost a day of travel" when he's making some long-distance trips, the colonel said.
Flying at about 400 mph above Scotland en route to Kyrgyzstan on July 24, Rumsfeld's E-4B needed more fuel. Air Force pilot Maj. "Spike" Tellier of the 1st Airborne Command and Control Squadron based at Offutt made adjustments to link up with a KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft that was positioned just above and ahead of the E-4B.
After being attached to the tanker's fuel nozzle, the E-4B began receiving 90,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel, as flight engineer Master Sgt. Mike Skoworn maintained radio contact with the tanker, which was on autopilot during the refueling operation. Within the hour, a second tanker on the scene would deliver another 90,000 pounds of fuel to the thirsty E-4B.
"If we had to land somewhere and refuel, it would add, easily, three hours to the flight," Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Zehner, an instructor pilot, remarked in the cockpit during the refueling operation.
The E-4B crew also includes a group of flight attendants who prepare and serve food and beverages and much more, said Tech. Sgt. Kris D. Laeding, the chief attendant.
"We also take care of safety," said Laeding, a 41-year-old Air Force veteran of 22 years. We're in charge of the emergency equipment." The attendants also operate the aircraft's doors, she noted, and transact passport and visa business with foreign travel officials at the plane's ports-of-call.
"We're the 'eyes and ears' for the entire main deck of the aircraft, where all the passengers and crew sit," Laeding explained. And, all meals served on board are prepared with fresh ingredients by the crew in the E-4B's versatile galley, she noted.
"I love this job. It's challenging, for one. And, you get to see a lot of places," Laeding said.
The original E-4A model was fielded in the mid-1970s to replace previous aircraft used to provide an airborne national military command center in the event of nuclear war, said Air Force Master Sgt. Gregory S. Grieser, superintendent of the E-4B's airborne communications. The upgraded E-4B was introduced in 1980.
The Cold War ended in 1991, but the four E-4Bs in the fleet fly on with state-of-the-art equipment to "provide all the communications, secure and nonsecure, to support the Joint Staff in a time of conflict, so they can support our national leaders," Grieser, a 45-year-old Detroit Lakes, Minn., native, explained.
Since 1994, with the approval of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, E-4Bs can be deployed to support Federal Emergency Management Agency requests for assistance during natural disasters.