KINGSLEY FIELD --
Launching aircraft during Sentry Eagle is a frenetic event as crews work to loft as many as 30 aircraft in under an hour. The typical largest launch for the 173rd Fighter Wing would top out at 12 aircraft, and that alone makes it one of the busiest flying wings in the Air National Guard. However, Sentry Eagle is one of the largest air-to-air exercise in the ANG.
Pilots climb into the aircraft, crew chiefs pull the pins on the gear, and the tower gives them the go-ahead to taxi off the ramp space toward the runway—but there is one more stop they must make. Just prior to take-off, weapons crews arm explosives designed to jettison external fuel tanks in an emergency, and under wartime conditions they would also arm a variety of weapons for the mission.
Four aircraft at time roll towards the weapons Airmen at a fast clip.
Staff Sgt. Rodney Clark stands directly in front of them to marshal them to a stop while his two Airmen execute a well-rehearsed sequence: chock the wheels, put a ladder next to the tanks, pull pins arming the explosives, place them all in a specially made bag and stow them inside the aircraft.
Tech. Sgt. Dane Sherin watches the process unfold from off the taxi way and notes that despite the speed at which the load teams work, that is not their number one priority.
“Speed is second to safety in the weapons shop,” he said. “There is a lot going on and we train to get the job done correctly and safely first. Speed comes with consistency and repetition. We try and work fast to get the pilots in the air, but we never want to work so fast that we miss something or take unnecessary risk.”
Sherin articulates one key principle for avoiding risk this way, “Our weapons shop is always trying to adhere to the cardinal rule of explosives safety—expose the minimum amount of people to the minimum amount of explosives for the minimum amount of time.
Over this four-day exercise, weapons crews armed 75 F-15 Eagles from both Fresno, California’s 144th Fighter Wing, Portland, Oregon’s 142nd Fighter Wing, and the 173rd Fighter Wing. That was then followed up with de-arming those same aircraft immediately following their return.