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Load planners perform final checks, balances

Tech Sgt. Taylor Shaw, load planner with the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, reviews a load plan with Senior Airmen Jason Turner and Gabriel Clark, both ramp operations specialists with the 87th APS.  The load plan is an essential tool in making cargo is balanced, safe and air-worthy before for any C-17 Globemaster III flight.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angela Shay)

Tech Sgt. Taylor Shaw, load planner with the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, reviews a load plan with Senior Airmen Jason Turner and Gabriel Clark, both ramp operations specialists with the 87th APS. The load plan is an essential tool in making cargo is balanced, safe and air-worthy before for any C-17 Globemaster III flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Angela Shay)

Staff Sgt. Dakota Coniglio, ramp operations specialist with the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, pushes an air transportable galley-lavatory onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The ramp operations duty section works closely with the load planning duty section, both part of the aerial port squadron, to safely and quickly airlift cargo and people in support of the Air Force mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Rachel Ingram)

Staff Sgt. Dakota Coniglio, ramp operations specialist with the 87th Aerial Port Squadron, pushes an air transportable galley-lavatory onto a C-17 Globemaster III at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The ramp operations duty section works closely with the load planning duty section, both part of the aerial port squadron, to safely and quickly airlift cargo and people in support of the Air Force mission. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Rachel Ingram)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --

Before any aircraft can take flight, each person and every piece of cargo must be carefully calculated to ensure appropriate weight distribution. Not only is this important for optimum fuel burn, it’s paramount to safety. An unbalanced aircraft with too much weight in the tail end, for example, may drag the ground on the runway. 

“An improperly loaded plane could lead to disaster during takeoff or in-flight,” said Master Sgt. Jon Webber, noncommissioned officer in charge of load planning, 87th Aerial Port Squadron.

Load planning, a duty section within aerial port squadrons across the Air Force, is responsible for coordinating the movement of every piece of cargo awaiting military airlift on Air Force planes.

Webber is one of currently seven certified load planners in the 445th Airlift Wing. Obtaining load planning certification requires extensive training in hazardous material handling, unit airlift, joint service inspections of cargo and vehicles prior to airlift, as well as use of the online system for generating the digital load plans. After completing the courses, on-the-job training ensures that new load planners are intimately familiar with the specific type of aircraft assigned to their base.

“It isn’t a role where someone else can just come fill in if we are short-handed,” Webber explained. “Each aircraft model has its own limitations and load planners have to consider the height and width of the aircraft interior, the capabilities of the floor rollers and locking systems, the pitch of the loading ramp, and more.”

Expertly trained in organizational skills and attention to detail, load planners are the final quality control checkpoint in the military airlift process. Cargo awaiting airlift is selected for airlift based first on its destination, then on its priority level, and finally on its time system-entry time, or the length of time it has been in queue.

“The guys out there are the ones physically putting cargo onto the plane, but they don’t know what to load, where to put it, and when to load it unless a load planner gives the directions,” Webber said. “It’s all part of a team effort to make sure every piece of cargo reaches its destination as quickly and safely as possible.”