KADENA AIR BASE OKINAWA, Japan --
As the first fighter/attack designed jet, the F/A-18 Hornet has become one of the Marine Corps most useful jets.
Capable of attaching many types of ordnance and reaching speeds of Mach 1.7, the F/A-18 Hornet can be described as a “drop and go” jet.
The F/A-18 Hornet’s ability to quickly mobilize and attack may seem like a simple load and go process, but many fail to realize the time consuming process necessary to prepare live ordnance for engagement.
“All of us as aircrew know that the ordnance men have to go through a series of different procedures to make sure our bombs, racks and all the systems in the airplane are ready to perform,” said Maj. Josh Pieczonka, Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 pilot.
VMFA(AW)-225 aviation ordnance technicians loaded and tested 5-inch rockets, laser-guided training missiles and MK-76 rounds on VMFA(AW)-225 jets during a unit-level training exercise here Dec. 17.
VMFA(AW)-225 falls under the Unit Deployment Program. UDP squadrons deploy throughout the Western Pacific for periods of approximately six months to gain unit cohesion and training.
For this particular training, VMFA(AW)-225’s mission was to provide close-air support for 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion Marines on the ground.
The preparation for this live-ordnance training doesn’t start the morning of training, but the night prior.
“We focus mostly on loading and testing the ordnance, and night crew mostly focuses on maintenance,” said Lance Cpl. Kent Hinderleider, VMFA(AW)-225 aviation ordnance technician.
The technicians spend hours ensuring the ordnance is safe to load the night before ordnance loading.
Once the ordnance is approved by the night crew, the day crew begins their morning by testing the aircraft for stray voltage before loading pounds and pounds of explosives onto the jets.
“If stray voltage is traveling throughout the aircraft, as soon as we plug ordnance to the aircraft, those rockets could shoot off right where we’re standing,” said Gunnery Sgt. William B. Payne, VMFA(AW)-225 aviation ordnance chief.
Once the ordnance technicians confirm stray voltage is absent, they load the ordnance and perform another safety check before the pilots arrive for takeoff.
“We try to train like we fight; so every time we launch a jet, it’s the same procedure whether we’re doing it in Iwakuni or we’re doing it in Afghanistan,” Payne said.
“The third time’s a charm” is a phrase VMFA(AW)-225 aviation ordnance technicians don’t overlook. As the jets taxi for takeoff, the pilots are redirected and stopped by a group of ordnance technicians who perform one last stray voltage and safety check on the live ordnance.
“Not everybody has (communication chords) in their cranial, and we don’t always have enough time. So it’s a lot faster if we can just give (the pilots) hand and arm signals, that way they know what we’re talking about, and we know what they’re talking about too,” said Payne.
Using only hand and arm signals, an ordnance technician team-leader guides the jets to a stopping point and walks the pilots through the last ordnance check.
Once everything is secured and prepared for engagement, the team leader renders a hand salute and pumps a “shaka,” a common surfer gesture, in the air communicating “get some” to the pilots.
The pilots return a shaka fist and prepare for takeoff.
“The pilots know vaguely what the weapon is and the capabilities the weapon has as far as flight profiles and stuff like that,” said Payne. “But 90 percent of them, if they walked out there and looked at the way it was wired, they wouldn’t know if it was wrong or right. So it’s real important for us to get our end of the deal right, so they can get their end of the deal right, which is dropping bombs on bad guys,” he added.
The pilots take off with only one thing on their mind, providing air support and sending copious explosive force to the enemy.
The aviation ordnance technicians unload and store any unused ordnance at the end of the day, and the safety circle starts all over again with the night crew.