The lives of C-130J loadmasters

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Austin Mayfield
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The hot summer sun beats down on the flightline causing beads of sweat to drip down the faces of loadmasters stationed here, their hands red from securing the straps of cargo pallets.

This is just another day for loadmasters assigned to Dyess Air Force Base. Their job is to ensure cargo is properly placed and secured in an aircraft for a smooth flight.

A loadmaster is responsible for checking the aircraft for any damage or complications, loading and dropping cargo, helping pilots search for any tall structures during flight and solving any issues that may arise before or during flight.

"A loadmaster is a subject matter expert on aircraft weight, balancing and loading," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Simonsen, 39th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "For the C-130J Super Hercules, besides the pilot and co-pilot, the loadmaster is a third crew member who handles all the equipment, systems knowledge and backs up the pilots with any aircraft issues."

Airmen starting their career as loadmasters go through several months of training.

"It's a long process, about nine to ten months," Simonsen said. "First, Airmen start with aircraft fundamentals at Lackland Air Force Base. Then, they go through water survival, evasion, resistance and escape training in Pensacola, Florida. Finally, they have aircraft specific training, which for the C-130J is in Little Rock, Arkansas."

Preparing for an airdrop includes physical labor, briefings and a lot of coordination.

"We start the day with a brief of the airdrop we are performing that day and we coordinate what we have to do to secure the cargo on the plane to ensure a safe flight," Myrick said. "Thirty minutes after we brief, we get to the plane and do our preflight checks to ensure the aircraft is free of any damages and any electrical deficiencies."

Different types of loads are combat support such as vehicles and weapons, low-cost-low-altitude such as food and medicine, combat rubber raiding craft, which is a fabricated rubber inflatable boat, and personnel.

"There are numerous ways we can load items. If it's a vehicle, we can drive it on or direct them how to drive it on,"Simonsen said. "If inoperable, we winch it on. If it's a heavy piece of cargo on pallets, we can load it from a K-loader, which is a machine used to rapidly load and unload cargo pallets on and off the aircraft."

Prior to arriving at an airdrop location and to ensure an airdrop arrives safely, the loadmaster must prepare the cargo properly by securing it with straps or chains in the aircraft. While waiting to arrive at the drop-off point, loadmasters help scan the area for any approaching tall structures.

When the drop-off zone is near, the pilots turn on a ten minute timer so the loadmaster will have enough time for preparations. When the clock strikes zero, a red light turns green and the airdrop is put into action.

Each airdrop has a different method of being dropped that is more effective than the others.

"Heavy equipment has a parachute that is released into the aircraft's slip stream which is air that sucks like a vacuum behind the aircraft. The parachute will break open in flight and drag the load out of the back of the aircraft," Simonsen said. "To drop low-cost-low-altitude drops, we will cut the strap ourselves and push it off."

After the airdrop has been performed the loadmasters return to base to unload any equipment they have.

"We use the K-loader to unload any equipment we have left on the aircraft," Simonsen said. "We also start turning off the aircraft and get ready for our postflight debrief."

Postflight debriefs are designed to discuss the sequence of events of the mission and discuss any issues that may have arose during flight.

"After we discuss any issues that may have arose, we talk about any possible solutions we have, to correct the issues and try to get closer to perfection," Simonsen said. "After we finish debriefing, we are dismissed for the day."

Airdrops can be performed to help out in humanitarian deeds such as natural disaster relief and deploy different units to different locations so they can perform their mission.

"Our mission is providing tactical airlift and mobility airlift all around the world, delivering the beans, bullets and personnel to all different locations," Simonsen said.