ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Altus AFB Airmen take pride in their squadron and show their support by yelling out squadron-specific chants to support their Airmen and boost morale. Most often, the cheers can be heard during promotion and award ceremonies or when an Airman from that squadron is recognized for a job well done. For the Aerial Operations (Air Ops) flight, the chant is “Always out front!” What does it mean to be “out front?” For members from the 97th Aerial Operations Flight, “out front” means setup, teardown and reconstructing the cargo pallets that make the mission at Altus AFB happen.
Aerial Operations starts off by preparing the cargo pallets and checking the parachutes for breaks, tears or other obstructions before loading them safely onto the pallet to be dropped. From there, the cargo pallet is delivered to the aircraft for the loadmaster to load-on, strap down and release during a flight. Airmen from Air Ops then retrieve the pallet from the drop zone and return it to the installation to check for damages and the process repeats itself.
Summarized as the flight that provides and maintains the cargo loading equipment that students at Altus use for training, Air Ops is essential to the Air Force mission.
“No cargo movement would happen without aerial transportation,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Preston Jobe, a quality assurance evaluator assigned to the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron.
Most aerial deliveries fall into two types: air freight and delivery. Both are performed here at Altus AFB as training for cargo movement missions around the world.
“Air delivery deals with cargo movement and pallet drops simulating combat off-load,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman William Plate, an aerial operations apprentice assigned to the 97th LRS. “Air freight deals mostly with vehicles, equipment and pallets.”
Air Ops is divided into two sections: delivery and freight to accommodate these two drop patterns. Freight deals with items that must be tied down for the duration of the flight from takeoff to landing. Delivery deals with materials that are airdropped and offloaded from the aircraft inflight.
“Aerial delivery is a unique part of our job,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Harris, an aerial operations apprentice assigned to the 97th LRS. “We’ve adapted it from the U.S. Army because the main function of air delivery was in the Army. The Air Force-side focuses on dropping cargo or heavy platforms through dual-row airdrop system extraction.”
A single-row airdrop is when cargo is loaded into the center of the aircraft and offloaded in a single file line. Dual-row airdrops occur when cargo is lined side-by-side on an aircraft and dropped in two rows simultaneously.
Each drop has drastic tactical importance downrange, meaning Airmen here must be expertly qualified to ensure total mission success in contingency locations. With the importance of their job, the Airmen at Air Ops are always working to ensure the loadmaster trainees are working with fully-functional, operational ready, Air Force equipment.
Air Ops does not work alone, however. Mission success is dependent on Air Ops’ work with other squadrons.
“We work hand-in-hand with the 97th Training Squadron (TRS),” said Plate. “We couldn’t really work without each other.”
Their close working relationship dictates the operational tempo at Air Ops, synching it with the TRS.
“The best way to explain it is; everything depends on the training load at the school house,” said Harris. “If we have a lot of loadmaster students who need air-drop training, then it is going to increase our load.”
Like a well-oiled machine, Air Ops continuously works to get the job done. The flight is divided into three shifts to supply 24 hours-a-day support. Each shift prepares the pallets for the next shift so all they have to do is drop the pallet off to the aircraft preforming the drops.
The best part of every job can be specific to the person, but most people agree that the best times are when you get to see the impact of all your work.
“I rig the parachutes and platforms. Personally, I get a lot of fulfilment out of it,” said Harris. “When we get to the drop zones to retrieve our pallets, I get to see my work function properly. It’s one of the best parts of the job.”
From prepping, to rigging and retrieving, Air Ops is at the front of the mission here at Altus AFB; rigging the mission forward one pallet at a time.