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Barnestormer Airmen Deliver Munitions for the Mission

  • Published
  • By By Senior Master Sgt. Julie Avey
  • 104th Fighter Wing
Air Power starts with the weapons loaders as they bring the boom to the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program (WSEP), at Tyndall Air ForceBase, Florida. A crew of three Airmen from the 104th Fighter Wing step to the aircraft preparing to load munitions for the mission at WSEP. 

“You load the aircraft up and the missiles are gone when they return back to the base,” said Staff Sgt. Nick Albert. “We don’t get to see that every day. It’s cool to see the jets come back without the missiles and know we were a part of making it happen.” 

Tech. Sgt. Lucas Hagopian, Staff Sgt. Timothy Mannion, and Staff Sgt. Nick Albert are a team of three weapons loaders from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts. Their mission is to ensure weapons loaded on the 104th Fighter Wing’s F-15 Eagles work properly for air crews at home station and deployed. 

“We load the weapons systems to ensure the pilot is able to use all of the munitions which may be needed for the mission,” said Hagopian. 
As a part of the WSEP exercise, the aircraft are loaded and shoot live missiles. The WSEP evaluates weapons systems. The purpose is to gauge operational effectiveness, to verify weapons system performance, determine reliability, and evaluate capability. The crews are provided valuable practice with live weapons.

“I’m glad what we do has to do with the jets,” said Albert. “I think that is cool. Dealing with the actual plane itself helping to make sure it does its job.” 

The WSEP tests the readiness of the unit and the weapons loaders are a huge part of the F-15s being ready for combat or homeland defense. 
“We have the alert mission back home,” said Hagopian. “We are protecting the whole North East to ensure a 9/11 doesn’t happen again. It feels good to be a part of such an important mission. It feels good to be a part of protecting our country along with our freedom and rights.”

Hagopian is leading his crew through successful loads during WSEP with his 14 years of experience loading munitions on F-15 Eagles.

Chief Robert Beaulieu of the 104th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group said “They are one of our best load crews and we would put them up against any other.” 

“It’s good to come to these temporary duty training environments,” said Hagopian. “The repetition allows for more experience. Being in this career field for 14 years on the same jet you can pass on the experience and knowledge to the younger guys coming up.” 

Hagopian is a traditional Guardsmen who works at General Electric Aviation in his civilian career. He makes parts for the T700 engine on the Black Hawk helicopter. 

“I’m new in the career field so WSEP is great for me to get familiar with how the operation works and be more efficient,” said Mannion. “We do load barn training back home but this will be my first time with live munitions.”

Mannion explained when asked how it felt “I can definitely say it was a little nerve wrecking at first knowing it was a live missile but after a couple times it felt like loading a non-live training missile. Safety along with strict procedures are carried out on any weapons load so I continued just the same.” 

The three Airmen load crew will load over 14 missiles and 20,000 rounds of munitions during evaluations. They will load Aim 9X short range and Aim 120 medium range intercept missiles, along with 20 mm ammunition, and chaff and flare countermeasures.

The load crew consists of three positions called the One Man, Two Man, and the Three Man. The One man or the Weapons Load Crew Chief oversees and is in charge of the load crew. The Two man is the tool man who preps missile launchers and takes care of the tools. The Three man drives the jammer when loading missiles and inspects the munitions looking for defects prior to loading.

“The training here is also good bonding,” said Hagopian. “We get to show off our skills and we go up against other load crews for a little competition along with bragging rights.”

Albert said “The last time I was here it was really fun so I wanted to make sure I came back again. It’s a little more intense here than it is at home sometimes. On a daily basis you load up fake missiles and they fly and then they land. Here at WSEP you launch the jets and you are being watched by the inspectors, officers, everyone, a little more intense. Every day whether here or back at home station is an important day on the job as we adhere to technical orders to provide weapons.

Albert has been in the Air National Guard for five years as a Weapons Loader and has attended WSEP twice. Mannion was in the Coast Guard as a machinist technician and Air Force Reserves as a firefighter previously.

The weapons load crews are able to improve readiness and team work during their training at Tyndall. 

“The Weapons career field is a tight group,” said Mannion. “We have a work hard and play hard mentality so when we are out on the line doing the operations we have a better bond with each other.”

Albert said “It’s our second family.” Hagopian agreed.