High-flying Huskies Take to the Skies

Five Air Force ROTC cadets pose in front of the nose of a C-130 airplane.
Five Air Force ROTC cadets pose in front of the nose of a C-130 airplane.
Among Huskies taking part in the experience were second-year cadets, from left, Cooper Marcukaitis, a finance major; Christopher Morley, a mechanical engineering major; Jorge Jenkins, a computer network and systems administration major; and Ethan Brink and Travis Crigger, both mechanical engineering majors. (Image courtesy Cooper Marcukaitis)

While not all become pilots, most cadets in Michigan Tech’s Air Force ROTC program will spend time inside a C-130 Hercules aircraft at some point during their careers. A visiting aircrew that included Husky alumni flew in for a memorable Keweenaw mission to familiarize students — and dazzle them with the view from above.

Michigan Tech ROTC student-cadets get an aerial view of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge during a flying exercise in January.

Michigan Tech cadets enjoy a rare vantage of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge on a mission that provided valuable flying exposure. (Image credit: Cooper Marcukaitis)

“This was very exciting for all of us,” said Lt. Col. Ben Zuniga, commander of AFROTC Detachment 400 and a professor of aerospace studies at Michigan Tech. “The aircraft is from the 96th Airlift Squadron based at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Joint Air Reserve Station. As Michigan Tech is located so far from most Air Force units, including active duty, reserve and Air National Guard, this was a very rare opportunity for our cadets to gain this type of flying exposure.” 

“Our team coordinated for the C-130 to fly from Minneapolis straight to Houghton County Memorial Airport, where 25 of Michigan Tech’s Air Force ROTC cadets welcomed the mobility aircraft in fresh snow and sunlight,” said Zuniga. “The nine aircrew briefed the cadets on C-130 operations, the mission plan for the day and answered questions. Cadets then boarded the plane and took to the skies.”

In accordance with Air Force policy, the crew names can’t be shared, but two of the nine members on the Jan. 20 mission are pilots who are Michigan Tech alumni and AFROTC graduates.

Aerial view of Michigan Tech campus as seen from berth of C-130 airplane.
Michigan Tech’s campus as viewed from a U.S. Air Force C-130. Two of the nine aircrew aboard were MTU alumni and Air Force ROTC graduates. (Image credit: Cooper Marcukaitis)

Zuniga said the crew performed a maximum effort takeoff, demonstrating the technique used to reduce ground roll and obstacle clearance distance, before “flying at low level twice around the Keweenaw Peninsula, hugging the icy coast. They even opened the rear doors midflight as the C-130 passed over the Keweenaw Waterway and the Michigan Tech campus!”

Cadet Cooper Marcukaitis said opening the aircraft’s rear cargo door also displayed the aircraft’s ability to deploy and load cargo.

“Cadets also got to experience what flight deck operations are like,” he said. And, after the C-130 was parked, cadets were able to perform an engine running onload, or ERO, simulating deployed conditions where aircraft don’t have time to shut down before loading or unloading cargo.

“This type of exposure is so important for our mission,” said Zuniga.

"As we continue to bolster our relationship with the 96th Airlift Squadron and similar units, we hope to coordinate Air Force familiarization and incentive flights on a periodic basis up here in the Keweenaw!"Lt. Col. Ben Zuniga, Air Force ROTC Detachment 400

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.