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The Mighty Eighth commander qualifies on E-4B Nightwatch

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Codie Trimble

While the rest of the Eighth Air Force was waiting in anticipation for the release of the WWII bomber series Masters of the Air, Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, commander of the Mighty Eighth and Joint-Global Strike Operations Center, traveled to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, focused on another aspect of the Mighty Eighth mission  – The National Airborne Operations Center.

The E-4B Nightwatch is the Air Force’s version of a highly modified 747-200, which serves as the National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) -- a key component of the National Military Command System for the President, Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“The NAOC is such a unique mission that not a lot of people are familiar with,” said Armagost. “However, the mission they support is critical to providing a highly survivable command, control, and communications center to direct U.S. forces, execute emergency war orders and coordinate actions by civil authorities. Without this mission, several others would be rendered useless without the orders that originate from the E-4B in times of crisis.”

During the visit, Armagost flew with a qualified instructor pilot where he completed a check ride on the E-4B during a training sortie, earning him the mark of being the first Eighth Air Force commander to earn his senior officer qualification on the aircraft.

Even though the pilot being evaluated was a two-star general, Lt. Col. Nathan Walker, an evaluator pilot for the 595th Command & Control Group assessed the check ride as if it was any normal pilot flying the aircraft.  

“Evaluating a major general was no different than evaluating any other crew member. We briefed, operated, and flew the evaluation like any other sortie,” said Walker. “Our standards for safe operation of the E-4B are the same on every evaluation; and Maj. Gen. Armagost proved more than capable of safely operating the aircraft in accordance with established checklists and limitations.”

A check ride is a flight which a pilot is evaluated on their aircraft knowledge, procedures, and flying ability. The left seat is occupied by the pilot being evaluated, and the right seat is occupied by a qualified instructor pilot.

“The E-4B missions are truly inimitable,” said Armagost. “This aircraft may not occupy the front pages, but the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marine crews conduct a truly essential mission. It’s very different in that the jet can have up to 112 people on board working in various capacities to include the joint-service operations team, Air Force flight crew, maintenance and security component and communications team.”

The NAOC mission is one that boasts crews on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week, since the mid 1970s. The group re-alignment under the Eighth Air Force in October 2016.