Schenectady Airmen Organize Airdrop Course

By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff

SCOTIA N.Y. — A group of Airmen organized at the Stratton Air National Guard Base recently to push thousands of pounds of gear and equipment off the back of a C-130 cargo aircraft, and it might have made quite a drop, but they never got off the ground. They were too focused on “important” stuff: straps, skid-boards, parachutes and the “unquestionable certainty” of their career field: Aerial Port.

As long as Airmen, Soldiers, and scientists depend on aerial ports for airdrops, there’s no time for distraction, they said. “I will be sure always” is a common statement among them; so, don’t mistake their work for an elementary school “egg drop.”

“You want everyone to grasp that frame of mind,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremiah White, aerial port delivery trainer, Pope Air Force Base, N.C. “This is a key part of our training.”

The 109th Airlift Wing Aerial Port Flight hosted an airdrop qualification course from Jan. 18 to Jan. 28 to fulfill Air Force and Air National Guard aerial delivery qualifications.

With the “Fabrication of Aerial Delivery Loads Course”—more commonly called the “Rigger Course”—instructors Sergeant White and Staff Sgt. Seth Abel from the 3rd Aerial Port Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, N.C., arrived here to teach 20 Airmen the ups and downs of aerial delivery.

We teach these classes whenever they are needed, said Sergeant Abel.

The Aerial Port Airmen explained that, in the past, the Rigger course was held through the Army’s Quartermaster School, Fort Lee, Va., but classes for Air Force personnel have been limited — Pope Air Force Base, N.C., has begun offering training, but with the limited number of seats a waiting list for students exists, making attendance difficult.

Sergeants Abel and White are teaching the course for Air Mobility Command until Headquarters, Air Education and Training Command is up and running with an additional course.

We needed our personnel qualified to support our Greenland and Antarctica airdrop requirements, said Staff Sgt. Rick Cowsert, aerial port journeyman.

When a course was managed here, additional units were invited to attend. Airmen from the 166th Airlift Wing, Delaware, 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada, 165th Airlift Wing, Georgia, 139th Airlift Wing, Montana and the 182nd Airlift Wing, Illinois arrived to train with the aerial port flight.

“We filled 10 seats, and they made up 10 other seats,” said Sergeant Cowsert.

Attending from N.Y.’s 109th Airlift Wing were Staff Sgt. Mike Byerwalters, Staff Sgt. Michael Eldred, Tech Sgt. Scott Helmer, Staff Sgt. Donald Masse, Staff Sgt. Kyle Partlow, Master Sgt. Chris Rowe, Senior Airman Shawn Rulison, Senior Airman Leonard Smith, Tech Sgt. Chris Wood and Staff Sgt. Kelly Yerg. All Airmen receive full credit for the course, which is a subsection of the Aerial Port career field.

“Usually, it’s…unilateral training for airdrop qualifications, but the 109th has a unique mission with its real-world work performed,” said Sergeant Able, who commented that the class consisted of all Air National Guard students.

“They have been pretty good and are grasping the information well,” he said.

Usually, one instructor holds a course for a maximum of 14 Airmen. Here, the instructors say the 20 to two Airmen/instructor ratio allows for increased individual critique and training, an additional instructor also helps accomplish the training in less than 10 days, with what is normally a longer course.

Sergeant Abel says their primary focus is teaching everything by regulation. Airmen learn the basics including proper name and identification of equipment, how airdrops are performed and where information can be found in specific manuals. Then, the course shifts to hands-on training including packing/inspecting parachutes and rigging cargo.

The G-12 parachute is the most common parachute used for C-130, low-velocity airdrops, said Sergeant White, who explained that Airmen jump into an all-encompassing sub-course on the chute including packing, inspecting and repairing minor damage.

Airmen additionally rig container delivery systems for airdrop; the arrangements are an interlocking mix of cargo and pilot parachutes, actuators, cables, straps, slings, ties, honeycomb-shaped impact cardboard and metal skid-boards. Everything must be packed to perfection for the system to work correctly.

We build them and point out the common mistakes found in the field, said Sergeant Abel. “It’s all building blocks stacked throughout the process.”

For the aerial port flight, these building blocks heighten their real-world capabilities at the North and South poles. With four qualified Airmen in the aerial delivery section previously covering airdrops, the Flight was limited. Now, the Flight will more than triple its airdrop ability.

“Without airdrops, the National Science Foundation could not accomplish some of their research at remote sites,” said Sergeant Cowsert.

The Airmen will feel confident when they go back to their units because they know the processes and fundamentals of aerial delivery, says Sergeant Abel.

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