C-130s help support radar sites

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 19:00
‘Site visits are our lifeblood’
A forklift off-loads supply pallets from a C-130 Hercules at Cape Newenham on Dec. 4. Cape Newenham is a radar site which is part of the North Warning System, a 2,983-mile long and 199-mile wide “tripwire” stretching from Alaska, through Canada, to Southern Labrador.

Many would say they haven’t used half the math skills they learned in school Why would they? In today’s computer age, most don’t need to.

However, there is one particular job in the Air Force where a calculation and attention to detail can be the difference between life and death.

When it comes to the safety of the crew, the cargo and the passengers aboard a C-130 Hercules, loadmasters like Airman 1st Class Andrew Thompson reign supreme.

A loadmaster calculates the weight and balance of the aircraft before every flight. Those calculations keep the aircraft within limits and safe to fly.

“During this mission, I oversaw the loading and unloading of the pallets and made sure the load plan was correct,” said Thompson, 537th Airlift Squadron.

The mission recently took the C-130 crew to two remote Alaska radar sites: Cape Romanzof and Cape Newenham.

These sites were set up in the 1950s to aid in detecting aircraft crossing the North Pole. The North Warning System consists of 15 long-range radars and 39 short-range radars. The system forms a 2,983-mile long and 199-mile wide “tripwire” stretching from Alaska, through Canada, to Southern Labrador.

The radar sites cannot operate without these resupply missions, as many of the sites have no roads in or out.

Temperatures during the mission were well below zero, making the simple act of standing outside difficult.

The crew off-loaded three pallets at Cape Romanzof and two at Cape Newenham. They also picked up one pallet from each location, and transported them back to JBER. As pallets came on and off, Thompson adjusted his numbers accordingly.

Thompson, originally from Stockton, Calif., arrived at JBER in March of 2012, fresh from technical training school. He said the most challenging part of being a loadmaster involves attention to detail.

“I wasn’t fresh out of high school. I was living on my own, not having to do super detail-oriented things,” he said. “Then I came in to do this job, which is very detail oriented. That has been quite the adjustment, an exciting adjustment, but it has been pretty tough.”

Thompson said he did have somewhat of an advantage over his fellow students, because for a short time before joining the Air Force he had been in a flight school, so he was familiar with things like checklists.

“My biggest disadvantage, however, was that I had been out of high school for six years and even then my study habits were bad,” he said.

The training a loadmaster receives takes about six to eight months to complete depending on the airframe they are assigned to.

For Thompson, he said the pressure and responsibilities of the job are worth it.

“I love this job because it’s such a different atmosphere from a normal squadron,” he said. “We train side by side with the officers as they learn their jobs as well.”

There are also perks for C-130 crew members flying missions in Alaska.

“I get mountain and glacier tours that you can’t buy from actual tour companies, so I get to see beauty that very few people could even imagine,” he said.

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