JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) - All this week, we're going 'Behind the Gate' at the Little Rock Air Force Base. We've introduced you to the C-130, the plane that calls the base home. And the loadmasters who are responsible for what's inside and what gets dropped out of those planes.
But now, we're going inside what they call the 'Top Gun of the Air Force.' Behind the gate at LRAFB, is the 29th Weapons Squadron.
"One of the phrases we talk about a lot in the 29th is we stand on the shoulders of giants," said James 'Brony' Morris, Chief of Flight Operations. It’s one of 17 squadrons across the country that make up the Air Force's Weapons School. "The Weapons School that a lot of people might think of is Top Gun. That Maverick Goose they remember from the movies," he said.
But instead of training to shoot down Migs over international waters, no missiles and guns. “We don't do that here. We do a different flavor," he added.
The airmen at the base focus on the flavor of the C-130. "There is no other aircraft that has the capability to land on an unimproved runway, take back off and perform airdrops in a hostile environment," said Master Sergeant Elias Carlon. The airmen said it would be too hazardous to land and take off.
"We teach these guys an elevated level of what the C-130 does," added Morris. "Taking it to its limits every day." Each airman who comes here has already been a co-pilot. The best co-pilots become an aircraft commander. The best commanders become instructor pilots. "So, they're already established in their own right," said Morris.
And the best instructor pilots apply to Little Rock. "We bring them here and we elevate them. We take them that one step further. They've got their bachelors, we're going to take them to their masters, their Ph.D. in the C-130," Morris added.
The degree is earned over a six-month course of academics and training. But the pilots aren't the only ones responsible for what they call mission success.
"There are actions I take in the back, switches I flip," said instructor loadmaster Staff Sergeant Dallion Richards. "It's extremely important that there is a good relationship between us and there's no barrier between the cockpit and the back of the airplane," he added. So right now, he is among the first instructor loadmasters to go through a brand new C-130 weapons school.
"Where we can teach them how to have a higher level of strategic thinking, and take part in the mission planning," said Richards. The class is in response to a change in the duties of a loadmaster. "In the old C-130's the loadmasters were strictly cargo," he said. A new version of the C-130, the J model, has new technology which eliminated the need for a navigator and a flight engineer.
“Now we've taken on some of the engineer responsibilities, we've gotta know how these systems work, how they interact with the plane. Although the computer helps us a lot telling us what's going on," said Richards.
Richards said they're hoping to get approval for the loadmasters course and start teaching it to other instructors later this year. As for the pilot's program, right now there are six pilots going through the C-130J program.
On Thursday, in part four of 'Behind the Gate,' we're introducing you to the U.S. Marines stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base. What they're doing here, and what they have to say about the base.