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Saunders Airlift Division is an air division of Saunders University High School. It's first appearance was in Girls und Panzer der Film and it had several recurring appearances on the spin-off manga Girls und Panzer: Ribbon Warrior, being vital to Saunders Sensha-dō Team's to carry out their objectives.
Initially, Saunders' air fleet was part of the General Affairs Department, becoming independent two years before the 63ʳᵈ National High School Sensha-dō Tournamentt. They then formed the Air Lift Division, gaining more liberty to operate and still fulfill the needs of their school and its affiliates.
One of these liberties is how they actively work in joint with the sensha-dō club, with Kay possibly having a lot of decision power inside the division.
They also operate with the help of a ground unit called the Saunders Combat Control Team, which is responsible for providing support and clearance of deployment zones for the cargo aircraft.
To date, their known inventory consists of the following aircraft:
- Three Lockheed C-5M Super Galaxy, with interior specially redesigned for tank transportation.
- Two Lockheed U2R Dragon Lady, for weather observation.
- At least three Boeing B-29 Superfortress, used to tow Hamilcar gliders.
- Three McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender, refuel aircraft, mainly used to extend the cruise distance of the C-5Ms.
- At least three General Aircraft Limited GAL. 49 Hamilcar gliders to air drop tanks and personnel.
- Two Lockheed L1049 - Super Constellation, for VIP transportation with redesigned interior.
- Ten Lockheed C-130H Hercules, for equipment transportation.
- Five Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, for high speed transportation of personnel and equipment.
- Two Douglas DC-3 for the horse riding and livestock departments.
- Three Lockheed L1011 Tristar, for faculty, staff, students, personnel and school trips.
After finding out that Ooarai Girls High School would still be shutdown even after winning the 63rd Sensha-dō Tournament and that the club's tanks would be taken away, Ooarai's Student Council made a request to Saunders to secretly collect and store their tanks, giving start to Operation: "I Shall Return".
Operation: "I Shall Return"
Operation "I Shall Return" was a logistical operation conducted in secrecy by Saunders University High School upon request of Ooarai's student council President Anzu Kadotani to collect and safely store Ooarai's tanks before the school carrier shut down. Having occurred during the night before every student, workers and families were ordered to abandon the ship. The operation involved one C-5M Super Galaxy cargo aircraft crewed by the pilot Naomi, co-pilot Alisa and Kay, with all of them acting as cargo engineers, and one KC-10 Extenders refuel aircraft. Below is the timetable of the operation in the 24-hour military time:
- 1805 hours - The C-5M Galaxy took-off from Saunders carrier, Nagasaki with destination Ooarai, where Ooarai's ship was docked;
- 1925 hours - The C-5 flew over Ooarai to maneuver and angle before landing;
- 1930 hours - The C-5 dumped fuel near Ooarai's ocean to decrease weight before landing;
- 2005 hours - The C-5 successfully landed on Ooarai's training ground, where all Ooarai Sensha-dō club members loaded their tanks inside the C-5;
- Around 2100 - A KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft took-off from Saunders to rendezvous with the C-5 on its detour;
- 2215 - The C-5 after being loaded took-off from Ooarai with destination back to Saunders, Saunders commanders promised to return the tanks as soon as Ooarai has gotten a new safe location;
- Around 2235 - The C-5 rendezvoused with the KC-10;
- 2245 - The C-5 and the KC-10 performed an air refueling;
- 2310 - A second air refueling was performed;
- 2345 - Both airplanes arrived at Saunders, Nagasaki.
After Ooarai's Sensha-dō club got stationed at a camp location, Saunders gave start to a more complex operation with the objective to return Ooarai tanks, the Operation: "I Have Returned"
Operation: I Have Returned
Operation "I Have Returned" was a logistical operation conducted by Saunders' Girls High School to return Ooarai's tanks that were collected during the Operation: "I Shall Return". Having occurred in the late afternoon of the same day Ooarai's Sensha-dō got stationed at a camp in Ooarai town. The operation involved one C-5M Super Galaxy cargo aircraft crewed by the pilot Naomi, co-pilot Kay and Alisa, with all of them acting as cargo engineers, and two KC-10 Extenders as refuel aircraft. A special rough refueling schedule was necessary due to the installation of the Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES) on the C-5 in order to air drop the cargo without actually having to land. Below is the timetable of the operation in the 24-hour military time system:
- 1745 hours - The C-5M Super Galaxy and both KC-10 Extenders took-off from Saunders carrier ship at Nagasaki with destination to Ooarai;
- 1810 hours - The C-5 and the KC-10 (1) performed the first air refueling;
- 1830 hours - The C-5 and the KC-10 (1) performed the second air refueling;
- 1855 hours - The C-5 and the KC-10 (1) performed the third air refueling;
- Around 1900 hours - The KC-10 (1) made its detour back to Saunders, Nagasaki;
- 1910 hours - The C-5 arrived at Ooarai and air dropped Ooarai's tanks in a civilian avenue using the LAPES system;
- 1920 hours - The C-5 rendezvoused with the KC-10 (2) and performed an air refueling;
- Around 2010 hours - The KC-10 (1) arrived at Saunders;
- 2030 hours - Both C-5 and KC-10 (2) arrived at Saunders.
Saunders' Air Lift Division had most of its appearances on the Ribbon Warrior manga, by constantly delivering full brigades of light tanks on the tankathlon matches locations.
It's first appearance was on a match between Centipede Team against the Flying Tankers Volunteers Group, when a squadron of B-29 Superfortress dropped General Aircraft Limited GAL. 49 Hamilcar gliders over the match field carrying M22 Locust tanks.
- C-5M Super Galaxy maximum payload is around 130 tons, Ooarai's tanks all together weigh around 200 tons.
- Saunders Airlift Division's logo is a reference to the Thunderbirds logo.
- Both operations to collect and return Ooarai's tanks are a reference to General Douglas Mac Arthur and the two Philippines Campaigns.
- He said on March 30th 1942 after his arrival to Australia after Allied withdrawal in Philippines on March 8th 1942: "I said, to the people of the Philippines whence I came, I shall return. Tonight, I repeat those words: I shall return!".
- He then said on October 20th 1944 on the second Philippines Campaign after landing of Leyte "I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.".