October 16, 2018 (by MSgt. Jessica Kendziorek) - At 14,000 feet above the Laguna Army Airfield in Yuma, Arizona, military freefall parachutists jump out of the opened cargo compartment from the back of an Air Force Reserve Flying Jennies C-130J aircraft.
SrA Christopher Godkin, 815th AS loadmaster, looks out the cargo door at 9,000 feet over Laguna Army Airfield at Yuma Army Proving Grounds, Yuma, Ariz during a combined training event with the Military Freefall School, Oct. 1-5, 2018. The 815th AS provided airlift for the joint forces training school, which covers all aspects of military freefall parachuting. [USAF photo by MSgt. Anthony Flores]
One 815th Airlift Squadron aircrew completed multiple flights, Oct. 3-5, 2018, as part of a joint forces training opportunity with the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, the Military Freefall School, which covers all aspects of military freefall parachuting.
According to Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 815th Airlift Squadron commander, these training missions are part of an agreement between the Air Force and the Army, where the 815th AS can receive training on high altitude airdrops, and the freefall students get high altitude – low opening (HALO) and high altitude-high opening (HAHO) parachute training.
Rubio said that for these specific jumps, the HALOs, aircrew gets to do a type of training that they don't normally get in high altitude wearing extra gear. Because they don't pressurize for the entire flight, the equipment that the jumpers and the crew wear was based on the altitude that they jump from, which for these missions was at 14,000 feet.
The crew members are required to be harnessed to the aircraft, don their helmets, oxygen equipment and conduct all normal crew functions within those constraints.
Senior Airman Christopher Godkin, an 815th AS loadmaster said, "It was more difficult to work because of the amount of equipment you have to wear, plus dealing with aircraft being unpressurized and the altitude, with the colder temperatures, it can wear on you and by the end of the day, I was tired."
The training that the Air Force Reserve aircrews routinely receive at Keesler Air Force Base tend to be done while at lower altitudes, under 10,000 feet, which doesn't require oxygen, and with a normal airdrop delivering equipment or supplies.
"The training simulates an environment that would not be safe for an aircraft or parachutists at a normal airdrop altitude," said Rubio. "So we come in high so that we are clear of any ground threats, they freefall in until they get to a lower altitude where they can open their chutes and steer themselves to the drop zone."
"I would definitely recommend that other loadmasters get this training," said Godkin. "For a deployment aspect, if you haven't had a chance to handle these types of drops often, this training gets you ready for that scenario.
"The instructors had fun with it, but were always very professional when dealing with their students," said Godkin. "Watching them go out the back and then seeing them land was interesting to watch and looked to be a fun time."
About 25 jumpers would load onto the aircraft at a time, with the 815th AS taking off and circling upward to altitude. The dropzone was within three miles of the airfield, and the 815th AS would make two passes per lift, with about half of the jumpers going out the cargo door during first pass, and the other half on the second pass.
"We would often land before the jumpers actually made it to the ground," said Rubio. "We would load the next group and go again. Seven lifts were done on one day, which was the most lifts for a single day of flying. We had more than 330 jumpers in three days, so they were able to get a lot of training."
Rubio also said they had the opportunity to watch the jumpers come down and see the skill that the instructors had and he said that you could tell which ones were the instructors versus the student in the way they landed.
"It was cool to see and meet those you are supporting, we have a good relationship with the school there. As we were leaving they gave us the 'come back anytime', which my goal as the commander of the 815th is to go out there and be their first choice," said Rubio. "So that way when they know they need to get a mission done, whether it is a school, training or to move something, we are ones they call."