The 412th Logistics Readiness Squadron “deployed” 81 personnel from the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 9.
The troops will be involved in a month-long test mission. A day earlier, six F-35s from the 31st TES took off and landed at the Idaho base.
This is the first simulated deployment test of the Joint Strike Fighter, specifically to execute three key initial operational capability mission sets. The 31st TES will execute these in a limited scope from a “deployed” location, which is Mountain Home.
The Air Force contracted a Southwest Airlines 737 to transport the troops, which is the first time in more than five years that a commercial airliner has landed at Edwards according to Michael Moran, 412th LRS, installation deployment officer.
The 412th LRS has been coordinating this mission for the past few months and finally executed the loading of 23,000 lbs of total personnel and baggage. This was overseen by the only two Air Trans career field Airmen on Edwards, Staff Sgt. Andrew Chilcoat and Staff Sgt. Johnathan Barnes.
“After the plane landed, there was less than 60 minutes ground time, minus the taxi, and the [baggage] load was completed in less than 35 minutes,” said Moran.
According to Moran, these types of deployment opportunities can face some obstacles at Edwards. The base does not have an air terminal, so the 31st TES troops had to gather in Hangar 1810 while Marine aircraft crewmen worked on their version of the Joint Strike Fighter — the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant.
Another challenge is bussing the troops across a very active runway to the parked, contracted 737. The luggage was transported by a 60,000-pound k-loader and manually loaded into the cargo bay.
Moran and Chilcoat said there has to be a lot planning and improvising when moving this amount of troops at Edwards, but the mission went off without a hitch.
“We’re going to take away a lot from this day and use it to create policies for future F-35 deployments,” Moran said.