Back to Focus

The hidden life of a loadmaster

MSgt Hillman on what it means to work with C-17s

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

The sight of a huge, grey "bird" slowly maneuvering an invisible curve against the skyline is familiar if you live near JBLM. You've probably been up close with one during a McChord Field Air Expo, too. It seems simple, but there's so much that goes into getting a $200 million C-17 aircraft off the ground and from point A to B that's not visible, and that's why the loadmaster is so critical.

"I feel true job satisfaction every time the jet leaves the ground and lands again," said loadmaster and Master Sgt. Seth Buchanan Hillman, of the 4th Airlift Squadron. "I do my job in ‘real world' scenarios and the fulfillment of doing it successfully is unmatched."

Hillman, a former bomb loader for fighter aircrafts, has been a loadmaster since 2005 and said the most rewarding parts of the job are bringing fellow Servicemembers home safely from deployments and delivering humanitarian aid and relief.

The loadmaster's job includes preparing aircraft for flight by ensuring cargo is properly positioned and secured, and that aircraft weight and balance limits are safe for flight. It also includes aircraft systems operations, handling aircraft emergencies, passenger safety and safety briefings (which are different from commercial flight equipment and procedures). It requires maintaining a high knowledge-level of the many different rules and regulations required for aviation safety, and of course, "the beloved high school algebra that no one thinks they'll ever use again," said Hillman, a 13-year veteran who has deployed four times.

Still, there's more to a loadmaster's mathematical capabilities and knowledge than meets the eye, for example the "law of the lever," cargo-to-fuel relationships and aircraft center-of-gravity (CG).

"(The law of the lever) and the forces that interact with it is the basis of weight and balance," he said. "If the aircraft is balancing on a pyramid, we must determine how we can keep it in the appropriate range without ‘tipping the scales.' If we have 18 pallets that weigh 5,000 pounds each the solution is simple - the rule of thumb is to put the heaviest objectives in the middle and branch out from there. However, if objects range from 1,000 to 10,000 pounds we need a bit more math. Things can get hectic if we have complex cargo loads."

Further, missions and fitting all the technical aspects of the puzzle that loadmasters are required to solve, largely depends on where the C-17 goes. "If we need more fuel because of where we're flying over the Pacific Ocean, then the cargo load may be drastically reduced. This also affects the way we calculate CG because it changes with the total aircraft and fuel weight."

 The loadmaster function is even more critical when one considers the C-17 can land on airstrips as short as 3,500 feet, carry 170,900 pounds of cargo, one M-1 Abrams tank (135,00 pounds), and can fly 300 feet off the ground at 250 miles per hour.

Hillman said he is the pilot's eyes and ears in the cargo department, and that the job can be challenging. "There are times we fly for almost 24-hours," he said, "have a 16-hour break, and are back for another 24-hour - we literally fly across 14 times zones and back in 5 days. It's tough when you don't know where you'll be from one week to the next or in what country your next mission is. But when we're ensuring troops are taken care of, it's essential. The three factors of knowledge, judgment and experience are the foundation that we, as aviators, reply on, and protecting the souls on board depends upon these attributes. It's absolutely worth it."

Comments for "The hidden life of a loadmaster "

Comments for this article are currently closed.