Flashback:At the King Fahd International Airport, Saudi Arabia, 1991, an A-10 “Warthog” performs a high speed taxi as it returns to its parking spot, fuel and munitions expended in combat. As the aircraft receives fuel, the weapons load crew rushes to load munitions for the threat that still exists. Within minutes the aircraft taxis out for the next mission in the Gulf War.
It is as true today as it was almost 20 years ago that the ability to rapidly load weapons on an aircraft is critical in combat. The specific function of the weapons crew is to load the aircraft in the fastest method possible while ensuring the reliability of the munitions.
The best load crews at Edwards held their first Weapons Load Crew of the Quarter competition; proving which load crew was the best on base. Not only was this the first loading competition in over a year, but it was the first competition in which two 5th generation fighters, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F-22 Raptor, competed head-to-head.
“The competition sharpens their loading skills, improves their combat readiness, and serves as a morale booster as the crews represent their unit against other aircraft maintenance units for top honors,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christine Beaudion, 412th Maintenance Group Weapons Standardization superintendent.
Competing for the 411th Aircraft Maintenance Unit on the F-22 was crew R-3, led by Staff Sgt. Alexe Perez. His team members were Staff Sgt. Marcel Ford and Senior Airman Douglas Covey. Competing for the 461st Aircraft Maintenance Unit on the F-35 was crew JSF-1, consisting of Staff Sgt. Lauren Cantu, Senior Airman Corey Thomas, and Senior Airman Coty Perez.
“Each unit has their own method for selecting their team members; however, certain criteria, such as monthly loading statistics and flight line evaluations weigh heavily on team selection. The crew with the best monthly loading stats is usually selected to represent their unit,” said Sergeant Beaudion.
All AMUs are eligible but bombers and F-16 could not provide an aircraft this quarter.
Both crews performed outstanding loads according to the evaluators. Each achieved load times well below the standard in a nearly flawless display of loading prowess. Loading in front of a crowd of more than 100, the crews provided excitement, drama, and an appreciation as they brought weapons loading into the next century.
However, in a competition there can only be one winner. Staff Sgt Alexe Perez led his team to victory, proving at least for the day, the superiority of the 411th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and the F-22 loaders.
In February, he will lead his team to compete in a true wild-west Loadeo as they vie for the coveted Load Crew of the Year. These load crew competitions serve to sharpen the tip of the spear and ensure the combat readiness of the nation.
- Edwards Air Force Base