It was Shadow versus Joint Strike Fighter when two crews competed Feb. 3, in the 2013 Weapons Load Competition of the Year at Edwards.
Two load crews competed, one working on an F-35 Lightning Two and the other on an F-16 Fighting Falcon to load an air intercept missile and a guided bomb onto each aircraft. The objective is to load both inert weapons onto their aircraft with speed and precision.
Each team has three crew members and an individual evaluator is assigned to each member. The evaluators verify that tasks and procedures are performed safely and according to technical data standards.
The teams are evaluated on their dress and appearance, a 25-question test, a tool box inspection and how they load the aircraft.
According to Staff Sgt. Dustin Jones, 445th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Weapons Load crew chief, in order to participate in the annual competition, you have to win load crew of the quarter first.
“It dates back pretty far in our heritage as weapons load crew members and team chiefs. It’s kind of like our Super Bowl,” said Jones. “It’s something that we look forward to and it’s a big award for everybody to look back in our career and say ‘yeah, I won load crew of the year.'”
Jones added that the winner will usually receive “a certificate, a hand-shake from the general and a trophy.”
But the competition isn’t just about the award, it’s a way to encourage camaraderie and to discourage complacency.
“I’ve been doing this for three years and it’s fun,” said Senior Airman James Capone, 412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Weapons Load crew member. “It may seem monotonous after a while, but you get into a groove of just being able to do well and it starts becoming like clockwork and you enjoy doing it. Part of why we do the competition is to keep safety in forefront of our minds.”
Jones added that the munitions are treated as real-world as possible. “Our munition requires a certain amount of time to load. If we’re in real combat situations we have to have that thing loaded in a certain amount of time to get the jet up in the air and so we train that way every day,” said Jones. “We want it as safe as possible. We don’t want to damage any equipment or cause any injuries to any of our guys.”
The competition ended with a Jammer Jamboree. Two drivers were tasked with weaving in and out of a series of orange cones in their jammers. “This is a fun way of showing who has the “best of the best” skills at driving bomb loaders,” said Tech. Sgt. Jarrod Miller, 412th Maintenance Group, NCO in charge of weapons standardization.
He added, “Aircraft Armament Systems Technicians have been competing in Weapons Load Competitions dating back before the Korean War. This is a tradition that builds morale, pride, and camaraderie amongst the units.”
The winners of the competition will be announced at the Maintenance Professional of the Year Banquet in March.