UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Who can balance an aircraft with passengers and cargo thousands of feet in the air?
C-130 Hercules loadmasters can! In fact, loadmasters assigned to the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, CO, are responsible for properly configuring the plane for its varying missions and perform a balancing act of up to 42,000 pounds, both passengers and cargo, to ensure the weight is evenly distributed throughout the aircraft.
“We have to consider the space to make sure we have enough room for the cargo and the passengers, but also take into consideration the weight and balance,” said Senior Airman Grant Bednar, a 746th EAS loadmaster. “We secure everything so that where the cargo ends up is safe for everyone on board and for the aircraft to perform the way it’s supposed to.”
Missions supported by Herc loadmasters here allow them an opportunity to directly impact forward operations within the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility and offer a firsthand perspective.
“We haul people around – they are covered in dirt and we know they’ve been in some nasty places,” said Bednar. “So whether we are taking them home or moving them to another location where they are needed more, it’s really rewarding because we see firsthand the impact. We see the people and how exhausted they are and how eager they are to see us -– we are their mode of transportation, their relief.”
There are nearly 15 C-130 loadmasters here. They include duty loadmasters, who perform the pre-flight and help assemble the aircraft on the ground before the initial start of a mission, and “flying” loadmasters, who are attached to the aircrews and reassemble the aircraft as needed throughout the missions.
Duty loadmasters do whatever they can for the crews to minimize the amount of work the aircrews have to do prior to take-off, explained Tech. Sgt. Wolfe Wendell, a 746th EAS duty loadmaster.
“Ultimately the loadmasters on the aircrew are responsible for assembly of the plane,” Wendell said. “The duty loadmaster will make sure the aircraft is prepped, loaded and ready to go. If they have to reconfigure on the ground, the duty loadmaster is responsible for that, but once the aircraft is in the air, that responsibility falls on the aircrew.”
Some of the missions they fly have multiple legs, or stops, and have to be reassembled at each destination.
“We could leave here with an aircraft full of passengers and the next flight could be all cargo,” Bednar said. “So it’s the loadmaster’s job to get the plane into the next configuration.”
Loadmasters operate on a strict timeline and must swiftly, but safely, rearrange the plane as many times as needed to support the mission. Sometime the requirements will change last minute and they have to quickly make changes to support the new requests.
“We have to make sure we are effective in meeting those timelines and get the people and cargo where they need to go,” said Senior Airman Nick Brandt, also a 746th EAS loadmaster. “We strive to maintain 100 percent mission completion.”
In addition to assembling the aircraft properly for each mission, they also have to calculate how the weight is distributed through the aircraft. It’s their job to ensure the Herc is within its limits enabling safe operations.
“Making sure the weight is correct and everything is secure and isn’t going to move during the flight is important,” Brandt said. “If the plane is ‘out of limits,’ either at the front or the back of the plane, it could cause a plane to fall from the sky. Not only are the pilots able to feel it when they take off, but if the plane isn’t correctly balanced it could cause a lot of damage and puts the lives of aircrews and passenger at stake.”
With a mission capability supporting so many varying missions, Herc loadmasters need flexibility to accommodate several different types of operations.
“That’s what I love about the C-130s; they are so versatile. We can transport cargo and passengers, support aeromedical evacuation missions and even air drops for troops on the ground under fire who really need the things we provide,” Brandt said.
When performing airdrops, loadmasters must ensure the aircraft stays appropriately balanced while the weight is being shifted to avoid it being out of limits, explained Brandt.
Each support unit for the C-130s here are essential to ensuring mission success and they share a level of mutual respect and understanding of one another.
“Crew chiefs are extremely important because if something breaks on the aircraft, they make sure that everything is good to go for us before we even get out here,” Brandt said. “In turn, we try and take care of them and help them out with their job and help with the post flight even on a long day, after a 16 hour flight, we’ll stay after to try to help them out so they can get done and get back to other things that they need to do.”
“We have the best maintainers in the fleet,” Wendell added. “They keep the aircraft in the best shape and ready for anything, without their support, we couldn’t do our jobs.”
[Editor's note: This article is part three of a four part series highlighting the Airmen essential to the C-130 Hercules' deployed mission here.]
This work, C-130 loadmasters: A deployed balancing act, by SSgt Bahja Jones, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.