Load crews face off in test of best

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE. Arizona --

This year’s annual Luke Air Force Base weapons load competition took place on Jan. 28, 2016.

The competition featured three teams of F-16 Fighting Falcon load crew Airmen from the 309th, 310th, and 425th Aircraft Maintenance Units, and two teams from the 311th and 314th AMUs out of Holloman Air Force Base. Additionally, a team of F-35 Lightning II load crew Airmen from the 61st AMU also competed. The event is designed to encourage friendly interaction among load crew members and enable them to display the high skill level at which they operate.

“For these guys to be able to come out here and load the way they do and demonstrate their skills in front of other people not only boosts morale, but serves as a reminder that we are the greatest Air Force in the world and we have the Airmen to prove that,” said Senior Airman Johnathan Mahlan, Weapons Standardization lead crew member.

Teams compete by loading a number of weapons onto their respective jet in the fastest time and with the fewest errors. Each team participated in and won smaller quarterly competitions for the right to compete in this event. The champion will be announced at the Maintenance Professional of the Year banquet on Feb. 5th, 2015.

Winning the event is a point of tremendous pride and grants an attractive addition to one’s career highlights. The competition, especially at this level, is fierce.

“You have to know everything perfectly,” said Senior Airman Caleb Staton, 310th AMU load crew member. “Once everything starts and you get into the chaos of it all, it can be pretty overwhelming, and you have to know your job, your nomenclature, and be in the right mindset to do well.”

Teams that make it to this final phase in the competition are well acquainted with grit, determination, and coordination: all skills needed to gain the advantage on competitors.

“A lot of people assume that speed is the biggest requirement to work effectively as a team,” Mahlan said. “But flawless communication is the most important factor. Sometimes it’s hard to hear or there’s too much going on at once and verbal communication is difficult, so teams have to have a gel or a sync amongst their crew. This is what we call ‘crew integrity’ in our career field.”

The addition of the F-35 as a regular component of the load competition echoes the transition of Luke’s mission from training F-16 pilots, maintainers, and support specialists to training equivalent Airmen in the operation of the F-35.

“To be able to be a part of the transition in its early stages is really good experience for weapons crew members or any other maintainers,” Mahlan said. “As far as a career is concerned, having that experience on a next-generation aircraft is awesome.”