AIR FORCE BASE LITTLE ROCK, Ark. —
In an effort to increase their skills in loading unusual equipment in rescue situations, the loadmasters of the 39th Rescue Squadron undertook special cargo loading training at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, in September.
This intensive training, conducted by the 34th Combat Training Squadron, challenged the combat search and rescue loadmasters to test and validate their ability to quickly calculate various military vehicles, aircraft parts and other unusual cargo inside the HC-130J Combat King II load and secure airplane.
“Some of the cargo we encountered was very unusual and unlike most cargo we have seen from a rescue vantage point in the past. For example, we loaded a Humvee with a trailer, an MQ-9 Reaper transport coffin, an HC-130J engine and prop, and a truck so big we had to deflate the tires to load it. Learning techniques to load larger vehicles has really gotten loadmasters to think of new ways to accomplish tasks,” said Senior Master Sgt. Dean Scalise, 39th RQS loadmaster.
An Air Force loadmaster’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to, conducting pre- and post-flight preparations and coordinating air-to-air refueling. In addition, they must accurately calculate the weight and balance distribution for loading, securing, and unloading cargo and passengers to ensure all loaded items are secured for the duration of the flight.
“For the flight crew, in the interests of safety, there is no rank on the plane. This training allowed the loadmasters to make decisions in the interest of the mission and have the confidence to override someone of higher rank. If the bracket is wrong and comes loose, it could be catastrophic,” said Master Sgt. Spencer Schenkelberg, 39th RQS loadmaster.
While the demands of a loadmaster’s job require continuous training in loading and unloading various types of cargo and equipment, combat search and rescue loadmasters aboard the HC-130J are not frequently exposed to larger and less common types of military equipment and personnel.
The HC-130J Combat King II, an extended-range search and rescue variant of the C-130 aircraft platform, is structured differently than the C-130 Hercules. While the aircraft platform looks almost the same from the outside, the inside of each variant is different, said Schenkelberg.
“Where we’ve had incredibly tight clearances for cargo, sometimes a slick (C-130 Hercules) isn’t where the equipment is installed. In some cases we have exposed the cargo door by less than an inch. When you’re loading the smallest cargo transport aircraft and your cargo is cleared within one customs, it takes special experience and skills to do it quickly and efficiently,” said Schenkelberg.
A week after this training, the 920th Rescue Wing evacuated all of its aircraft in anticipation of Hurricane Ian. While preparing the aircraft for evacuation, the 39th RQS’s loadmasters faced the challenge of loading something they had not yet done on the HC-130J; a tug, a four-wheel drive vehicle used by maintenance to tow aircraft manually. To ensure that the loadmasters were equipped with the necessary knowledge to safely secure this piece of equipment, they requested a copy of the Airlift Test Load Activity letter.
“During the week before the training, the instructors refreshed the ATTLA letters, a document that contains loading and restraint criteria for certain cargo. It also shows where the lashing points are on the load. ATTLA letters are something we’ve all been trained in but haven’t had to use in years, if ever, so the training was solidified during this mission,” said Schenkelberg.
For any loadmaster or aircrew, the training provided by Little Rock has not only refreshed less commonly used skills and knowledge, it has also restored the need for these airmen to innovate to find the best solution when faced with a unique request for… Transportation of various aircraft will face cargo and equipment.
“This training is critical for anyone going deep, even if assigned to a specific cargo mission. For the most part, our mission is not a cargo transport mission. It was invaluable for us to be able to go to Little Rock, forced to think outside the box and be creative with solutions. I’m confident now that if someone is in the lower range and presented with a similar scenario, that person will think back to that training and potentially see a more efficient solution,” said Schenkelberg.