5 hours of work for 15 seconds of action
By Senior Airman Nathan Clark, 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 07, 2016
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFNS) -- A C-17 Globemaster III flies low, with its cargo door open. In 30 seconds it will drop 2 tons of food and water to a disaster-stricken country; the pallets will land safely, all due to the expertise of aerial delivery specialist riggers.
The ability to off-load large amounts of supplies from a cargo aircraft without having to ever touch the ground is made possible by the specialist rigger.
One of the missions at Altus Air Force Base is training and qualifying C-17 loadmasters whom to graduate, must complete four airdrops. The 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron makes these training requirements possible.
“Our responsibility is to ensure the airdrop pallets and cargo are properly rigged up after we get a request from the loadmasters,” said Senior Airman Derek Bradley, a 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron aerial delivery specialist rigger. “We do everything from packing the parachute to loading the platform on the aircraft.”
In the Altus AFB’s training environment, they stay busy preparing for airdrops.
“Depending on the weather and a few other factors, we could have two drops a week or 40,” Bradley said.
Small in numbers, the rigger career field is primarily an Army role, but a handful of aerial delivery specialists are selected to attend a month-long rigger qualification training course after becoming proficient in the air freight operations.
“Technically the air freight section can rig, but everything must be checked by a certified rigger,” Bradley said. “Everything we do from the parachute themselves, to the platforms have many checks to make sure there’re no flaws.”
The importance of ensuring a platform is ready to be dropped, comes with good reason.
“We build the platforms from the ground up and if for some reason the chute doesn’t deploy, that’s on us” Bradley said. “We will assemble the actual platform, load and secure the requested cargo and pack the parachutes. After our checks, we will take the platforms out to the aircraft and load them up. Altogether we will put about five hours of work into it one platform that will take about 15 seconds to hit the ground after leaving the aircraft.”
Even once the drop is over, the riggers job is not done. They must then retrieve and store the chutes, each weighing more than 100 pounds. The platforms are then stacked and loaded onto a flatbed trailer by a forklift.
Since the riggers follow the platforms from beginning to end, they are able get the satisfaction of seeing their work in action.
“I enjoy most parts of my job, actually,” Bradley said. “Building platforms is relaxing. I get some time to myself and I can easily see the finished product. I also love recovering because it’s rewarding to see your own work being used and successful.”
Being able to see their work in action is something the riggers can be proud of, not because they did a good job, but because they understand the importance of their missions.
“It’s pretty critical, whether it’s a drop or just being unloaded on the ground. Getting the supplies to the target could mean the difference between life and death for someone,” Bradley said. “But when you can’t get the cargo there via land, which happens a lot, air might be your only option. The riggers help make that possible.”