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Guard loadmasters plan, execute mission with precision

A cargo pallet drops from a C-130 aircraft during a training flight Oct. 7. The pallet is released from the aircraft when a connected parachute is deployed and catches winds out the back.

A cargo pallet drops from a C-130 aircraft during a training flight Oct. 7. The pallet is released from the aircraft when a connected parachute is deployed and catches winds out the back (Photos by Airman 1st Class Alex Martinez).

Senior Airman Mike Abner and Senior Airman Bryson Swank, 187th Airlift Squadron, run through pre-flight checklists during cargo pallet drop training Oct. 7.

Senior Airman Mike Abner and Senior Airman Bryson Swank, 187th Airlift Squadron, run through pre-flight checklists during cargo pallet drop training Oct. 7.

F.E. Warren AFB, Wyo. -- For the Air Force, I serve one mission and act as, well, a test dummy.

My mission begins on the ground where I'm prepped. I'm then loaded into an aircraft, usually a C-130; guided, locked and strapped into place; rigged with parachutes and inspected once, twice and sometimes a third time to ensure I'm "mission ready." All this work is done by the loadmasters.

Although this is good training for them, my life as a repeatedly dropped cargo pallet is a tough one.

Loadmasters begin a "flying day" by coordinating what tasks need to be done while in the air. Tasks such as determining where they will be positioned and what checks need to be done are covered to ensure there's no confusion.

"It's important to plan what we're going to do up there," said Senior Airman Mike Abner, 187th Airlift Squadron. "It's kind of like the [Navy] Blue Angel pilots. They envision their maneuvers before they fly. We envision what we are going to do before we go up. It makes things go faster."

The weight of everything onboard is added and calculated to determine the aircraft's center of balance.

Loadmasters run through many checklists during a pallet drop. Reading through checklists multiple times lessens the risk of mistakes. While airborne, loadmasters are the eyes and ears of the aircraft and are responsible for successful equipment loading, unloading and drop missions.

"[Loadmasters] are expected to perform their job professionally and correctly and they do here," said Chief Master Sgt. Mike Sorensen, 187th AS loadmaster section superintendent.

Loadmasters from the 187th AS frequently train in dropping cargo pallets and other flying support missions so they are ready for deployments.

While in Afghanistan, the loadmasters performed missions using the container delivery system, said Senior Airman Bryson Swank, 187th AS. "We did a lot of the same work we do here, the only difference is it was such a real experience deployed. It's a different world over there."

A CDS mission is used to drop supply containers from an aircraft to re-supply deployed troops and is sometimes used for special operations forces.

The days in a deployed environment are usually longer, averaging about 16 hours a day, but since the job is so important, the loadmasters don't appear to mind much.

"The job is very gratifying," Chief Sorensen said. "We have the opportunity to come in contact with so many people."

In addition to interaction opportunities, 187th AS loadmasters travel a lot and site traveling as one of the perks of the job.

"The whole job is amazing," Airman Swank said. "The flying and the travel make the job."
With any military job, there are misconceptions, and the loadmaster job is no different.
"'Gear up, feet up' is a common saying for our job," said Airman Abner. "People say when the plane is up, we automatically put our feet up and go to sleep. It's not true at all."

The turbulent and sometimes nauseating conditions of a low-level cargo drop mission on a C-130 aircraft are not enough to stop loadmasters from doing their job. While many would be green with motion sickness, they are onboard walking and hopping around the aircraft running checklists, checking functionalities and performing proper drop procedures.

After all, being a loadmaster is a lot better then being a cargo pallet; instead of being sucked out the back of an aircraft and dropping to the ground, they can just watch me drop and enjoy the ride back home.

Anyone interested in being a loadmaster should just go for it, said Airman Abner. "If they like to travel and fly, this is the job for them."