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33rd FW hosts first F-35A load competition

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The 33rd Fighter Wing held its first weapons load competition with the F-35A Lightning II here Feb. 5 to find the best weapons load crew in the 33rd Maintenance Group.

The event marked a milestone in the wing’s F-35 program as the first competition in seven years since the 2009 drawdown of the F-15C Eagle. The 33rd FW flew F-15s until the Defense Department’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission directed the divestment of the aircraft and established the wing as the host unit for the F-35 Integrated Training Center. On Sept. 8, 2009, the wing's final F-15 departed to make way for the F-35’s arrival in the summer of 2011.

"(This competition) is very important to the F-35 program because it shows our progress as weapons load trainers and how the F-35 has grown," said Tech. Sgt. Daryl Crane, a 33rd MXG weapons load standardization crew member. "It also shows how we've brought this aircraft (toward) initial operational capability. We set the milestones for other bases to have these aircraft ready to drop (munitions) as soon they get them."

During the competition, load crews underwent a uniform inspection, a written 25-question test covering loading procedures and weapons safety, a weapons tool box inspection, and an Air Intercept Missile-120 and Guided Bomb Unit-12 integrated load. All evaluated processes are graded on a point system distinguishing the team with the highest points as the winner.

"The purpose of weapons load competition is to allow the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit load crews to showcase their abilities as excellent loaders and encourage a competitive spirit to our career field," said Tech. Sgt. Raymond Mott, a 33rd MXG F-35A loading standardization crew member.

The 33rd FW has 14 load crews made up of one lead standardization crew, two lead crews and 11 load crews. Only these 11 load crews in the 58th AMU are eligible to compete in the load competition.

The wing hosted four quarterly load competitions for the 11 load crew teams to compete against each other to qualify for the event.

"The competition pushes our loaders to stay competitive," Mott said. "This (event) ultimately makes all of our 11 load crews better and smarter loaders."

The winners of this competition will be announced at the military professional of the year ceremony March 11. This team will then compete in a base-wide load competition March 18 against load crews from the 96th Test Wing on Eglin Air Force Base to determine the base's best load crew.

"Our career field has a lot of pride. Earning the title of the best load crew is the same as winning the gold medal in the Olympics because it follows you throughout your entire career," Mott said.