Tag Archives: loadmaster

So you want to be a loadmaster?

Name: Airman 1st Class Austin Thompson
Unit: 344th Training Squadron
Where are you from: St. George, Utah

Airman 1st Class Austin Thompson (Courtesy photo)
Airman 1st Class Austin Thompson (Courtesy photo)

Why did you join?
My obsession for all things aviation and the military sparked my idea to join and I tried to learn as much as I could from watching documentaries and YouTube videos. I joined the United States Air Force to do something different from the rest of my peers. I hope to make a career out of it.

What was your experience with the Air Force before joining?
While in high school, I was part of an Air Force Junior ROTC program with more than 350 students from five different high schools. The cadre were all awesome instructors who shared their interesting stories and life details that also shaped my decision to join. Also, my uncle just retired last year after over 20 years in the Air Force.

What does your family think of you becoming an Airman?
My family has supported me through all of my decisions to join the military. They are proud of me for what I’ve chosen to do and believe that I can do greater good for myself, my family and those around me while I am serving.

What was your recruiting experience like?
While working with my recruiter, I was given a lot of options on what I could do. After a few months of going through the process of enlisting, I swore into the United States Air Force July 12, 2013, with a list of five jobs picked. Almost 10 months later, just as I was graduating high school, I was assigned my job. I would be an aircraft loadmaster or Air Force Specialty Code 1A2X1. The final months that lead up to my BMT date I spent researching and gathering all the information I could get.

You’ve made it this far, what was your impression of Basic Military Training (BMT)?
August 13, 2013, was my first day in BMT. It was a lot different than I expected. The overall experience was more focused on learning about the Air Force and team work than just about being a warrior.

What came next for you after graduating BMT?
I traveled a short distance to tech school at the 344th Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. I was finally ready to get on with my training as an aircraft loadmaster apprentice and see what the job was all about.
After the first week, which is known as Students Awaiting Training week, my job training began with the Career Enlisted Aviator (CEA) portion. This part of the training is for anyone who is going into an enlisted aviator career field whether it is loadmaster or a boom operator or another aircrew position. Here you start with aircrew fundamentals, a two-week course that teaches aircrew responsibilities, basic aircraft functionalities, safety procedures, safety equipment, and the different missions of each job and what they do. All the aircrew also attend a two-day course on how to tell the difference in your own hypoxia symptoms, how to deal with those, and why it is so important to use an oxygen mask if something happens while in-flight.

How was the hypoxia chamber?
The hypoxia training, or the Chamber as we call it, was probably the funniest thing I’ve done in training. Airmen attempt to complete tasks like simple math problems while being exposed to the effects of oxygen deficiency so they can recognize the symptoms. Being able to watch my fellow Airmen not be able to do simple tasks and realize that they need to do something to keep themselves conscious really brought it to my attention that the we receive our training for a reason, and that it’s for us to be able to keep ourselves and our fellow Airmen alive.

What happens once you learn the basics of being aircrew?
After the two weeks in aircrew fundamentals, you transition to the course for your actual career field. For loadmasters the course takes approximately two months. The classes cover everything from math procedures for finding the balance and weight of the aircraft for cargo loading procedures, to learning the different mission sets of our career field like airdrops, cargo loading and unloading. I also learned how to safely secure cargo to the aircraft, different types of passengers and safety procedures.

What was the next step in your training pipeline?
After the Basic Loadmaster Course, I became a detail Airman while I wait on my security clearance which can take some time. Since then, I have been able to complete water survival at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. There I learned how to survive in a water landing scenario. The instruction covers signaling rescue aircraft, hazardous aquatic life, food and water procurement, medical aspects of water survival and life raft procedures. To simulate an emergency in-flight over water you parasail and practice parachute descents. That course was a total of five days and is required for all officer and enlisted aircrew members. If we didn’t receive that training I wouldn’t know how to handle that type of emergency.

What has been your favorite part of training so far?
My favorite training so far would have to be either the load trainer, where you load cargo onto a C-130 training device, or parachute water survival.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned so far?
That no matter what, safety and communication are key. Also, never be afraid to ask a question about something.

What other training will you receive?
To add onto that experience, I am still waiting for a class at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, for SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) training. SERE is a 19-day course required for all officer and enlisted aircrew members. After that I’ll go to C-17 Initial Qualification Training (IQT) at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. This course ranges from over three months to six months depending on if your projected assignment does or does not do airdrops. Other aircraft available to aircraft loadmasters are the C-130 and the C-5 with their airframe specific courses ranging from two to eight months long.

Do you know where you’ll be heading next?
Toward the end of our two month training here at JBSA-Lackland, we received our future duty stations. I was assigned Travis Air Force Base, California working on C-17s, but it can change. From what I’ve heard about Travis it’s a wonderful base to be at and I’m excited. I’ve done my research to a basic level on the C-17 and I know the aircraft is an awesome workhorse and can do practically every mission available.

How do you feel about how your job fits into the overall Air Force mission?
My job has a very important role within the Air Force. Not only does the Air Force rely on us and our aircraft to transport cargo and personnel from one place to another, but so do the other branches of the military.

What do you look forward to about doing the job?
The main thing I look forward to is the travel, and just being able to know that somehow, somewhere I am helping someone by delivering cargo, personnel or even someone’s loved one.

121,000 pounds in 15 seconds

By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
U.S. Air Forces Central

Their flight suits are soaked through with sweat, it’s 110 degrees outside and the smell in the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III resembles a high school locker room — we’re 30 minutes into our 15-hour mission.

Air DropLike the majority of people who like to browse news on the war, I’ve seen many pictures and videos of supplies and cargo being dropped from an aircraft … the pallets of supplies float gracefully down and that is that. Never do I see the blood, sweat and tears that go behind getting those pallets to where they need to be.

The crew is alerted around 9 a.m. and arrives to the squadron 40 minutes later. They assemble for a highly detailed pre-mission brief that prepares the Airmen for what they will face during their mission.

Once processed through customs, it’s time to arm up and head to the plane. Today is my first combat airdrop mission; our location is somewhere in Southwest Asia. The air is heavy with humidity — you can actually feel the air on your skin. At this point, all we’ve done is place our bags on the C-17 and already our flight suits are drenched in sweat. Drops of perspiration are falling off the loadmaster’s face. We have 13 hours left in the day.

Even in the cargo bay of the massive aircraft, room is at a premium. More than 73,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel loaded on 40 pallets fill the aircraft from tail to nose, leaving just enough space for us to walk along the sides. The loadmaster’s voice comes over the speakers “ready for takeoff.” Within seconds our warehouse with wings is in the air.

Estimated time over target is two hours. The lights dim and things begin to cool off as we ascend.

As we get closer to the drop zone, Staff Sgt. Russ Johnson, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, signals a 30-minute warning. My two partners are no strangers to documenting airdrops, but for me, this is a new experience.

I strap myself into a seat in the back by the door. The aircraft dives, dips and dodges its way through the mountains of Afghanistan — I eye up the closest pile of puke-bags in case things go south for this guy.

The door opens at about 1,000 feet above the ground. I knew Afghanistan was mountainous, but I couldn’t have been prepared for what I saw. The mountains are high and the aircraft is low. It feels as though I could reach out and touch the mountaintops — I wasn’t too far off.

It’s game time. Red light … yellow light … green light. Within two seconds, 36,500 pounds of JP-8 fuel violently races past me and out the aircraft, floating down to coalition troops on the ground. Our second pass drops another load.

Gearing up for our third drop, a stop is made at Bagram Airfield (BAF) to refuel and load up another 48,000 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat. As we’re parked on the ramp, the doors open and the tail goes down. For anyone who hasn’t been to BAF, it’s a sight to see. A bowl of mountains surround the airfield. On the ramp of the aircraft lay two loadmasters enjoying the sunset on what appears to be a peaceful evening.

With one pallet left to load on the plane, sirens go off. The peaceful moment disappears as the crew loading the plane runs for cover because, make no mistake about it, we are at war.

Air DropThe news team and aircrew shelter in place on the aircraft. The sirens disappear and a new noise is heard. A pair of fighter jets and helicopters take to the sky. We all agree, someone is about to have a bad day.

More than an hour passes before the last pallet is finally loaded.

The sun is down and the sky is dark. Red lights illuminate the cargo area of the plane.

In preparation for the last drop of the mission, the lights dim. Looking through the viewfinder of my camera is a daunting task as visibility is close to nonexistent. We’re effectively an invisible flying Wal-Mart under the night sky. In a matter of 10 seconds, the doors open, the MREs blast out the door and we are on our way home.

Fifteen hours for about 15 seconds of actual action. Action that will keep my brothers and sisters fed, and their vehicles working.

The men and women of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Joint Base Charleston are game changers. They allow coalition forces to sustain operations in some of the most austere locations on Earth. They are force multipliers.

Video: Airlift supports warfighter

Photo: (Top) Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephen Adams, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, observes 36,500 pounds of JP-8 fuel fly out the back of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft over Afghanistan July 8, 2011. The C-17 dropped more than 121,000 pounds of food and fuel during a 15-hour mission. Supplies were dropped to U.S. and coalition troops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri) (Bottom) Staff Sgt. Adams releases 48,000 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat out of the C-17 on July 8, 2011 over Afghanistan during the concealment of the night sky. The crews also airdropped more than 73,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel during their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)