Reservists’ civilian experience proves vital to new aircraft programs

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – When it comes to accomplishing the mission, it’s not uncommon for the civilian work experience of Citizen Airmen to play as vital of a role as their military experience.

This is certainly the case for Lt. Col. Robert Latka and other Reservists supporting the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.


One of the center’s missions is to acquire and prepare new aircraft, such as the KC-46 Pegasus refueling tanker.


While Latka’s experience as a KC-10 Stratotanker pilot with the 78th Air Refueling Squadron certainly provides value to the mission, it was his civilian experience as a pilot for an international package-delivery company that made him particularly useful to the KC-46 program.


Once Latka learned the KC-46 would be based on a Boeing 767 platform, which just happens to be the airplane Latka flies at his full-time civilian job, he took the initiative to reach out to the center’s KC-46 program office to offer his particularly appropriate blend of talents.


“I have been a lifelong tanker guy,” said Latka, who started his Air Force career as a KC-135 maintenance crew chief. “I thought it would be great to have a hand in all three tankers during my career.”


At first, the office didn’t need help, but when they needed an Air Force tanker pilot who was also well-versed with the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules and regulations for civilian airline operations, they took Latka up on his offer, said Dr. Robert Marx, the FAA Military Certification Office Liaison in the KC-46 program office.


Since 2012, Latka has been serving with the office about 30 days per year in a variety of roles.


Marx said Latka has contributed to the avionics development team, the cockpit working group, the test and evaluation team, the aircrew training team, the flight manual development and verification team and the FAA certification team.


“This is really interesting work since our group is rather diverse, including pilots, design engineers and testers,” Latka said. “The majority of my work involves editing and writing the KC-46 flight manuals.”


But Marx thinks Latka’s intangible contributions are just as significant as his tangible skills.


“He delivered an inspiring presentation at an all-call upon his return from deployment. He helped not only the civilians in our organization but also the junior officers better understand what our mission is and who we do it for,” Marx said.


And Latka isn’t the only Citizen Airmen contributing to the center’s mission.


“Over the years, we have had many Reservists in support of our acquisition programs,” Marx said. “Reservists bring the warfighter into the program office. This is especially true when we are buying a commercial derivative aircraft since many Reservists also work in the commercial aviation industry as mechanics, pilots and inspectors.”


Another Reservist supporting the center’s mission is Senior Master Sgt. Constantine Karamargin. He is officially assigned to the center as an individual mobilization augmentee, but he came up through the ranks maintaining KC-10 Extenders as a crew chief with the 714th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.


And just like Latka, Karamargin is able to leverage his civilian experience as an FAA maintenance inspector.


“He constantly relies on his vast experience as a crew chief and an FAA inspector to make sure the KC-46 maintenance program is the best it can be,” Marx said.  “He has also been instrumental in navigating the path to achieve FAA approval of the KC-46 maintenance program.”


Marx said Karamargin’s civilian experience has paid dividends for the program office.


“It has been critical since the KC-46 will be the first commercial derivative aircraft platform ever supported organically by the Air Force while still maintaining its FAA type design approval.”


Karamargin also audited airworthiness policies of civilian aircraft used for Air Force pilot training developed & provided training materials and instructions related to aircraft inspections, supported the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node E-11A program, and assisted the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System program with understanding FAA maintenance requirements.


The contributions of Latka and Karamargin have also paved the way for Lt. Col. Michael Capodicasa, another KC-10 pilot with the 78th ARS, who recently began serving with the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program office to assist with acquiring the new Air Force One.


In his civilian profession, Capodicasa flies a Boeing 747-8, which was selected as the airframe for the next Air Force One.


While Capodicasa is still becoming familiar with the program, Marx said he expects him to perform as well as his fellow Reserve Airmen.


“I have no doubt that as the PAR program evolves that Lt. Col. Capodicasa’s involvement will prove just as important based on his 747-8 experience and that he will be a tremendous asset to the program,” Marx said.


Marx gave credit to Airmen of all statuses for the center’s success.


“This is all being done using the Total Force in development and not just operation,” he said. “The center’s motto of ‘speed with discipline’ would not otherwise be possible without leveraging both the civilian and military experience the Total Force brings to the table.  We are transforming the way the Air Force operates and maintains commercial derivative aircraft and we are doing it as one team.”