The warm sticky breeze flowed across the jets as they sat on the flight line awaiting their next mission. Airmen began to arrive. Two drove in the live munitions and others drive in a tool kit. The beginning of something new began for these jets.
AIM-9X missiles were loaded on to the F-35A Lightning II for the first time at Eglin Air Force Base Sept. 17-19 for Exercise Combat Archer.
“The 33rd Fighter Wing is crossing another important milestone this week as we take on a short notice Weapons Standardization and Evaluation Program tasking to load, carry and fire 7 AIM-9X missiles in support of Combat Archer,” said Chief Master Sgt. John Lang, 33rd FW weapons manager.
Loading live missiles doesn’t happen often at this training wing and it was the first time some Airmen were able to participate in a live load. Combat Archer brings the unique experience of being able to load live munitions outside of actual combat.
“When the opportunity was presented, both operations and maintenance eagerly accepted the challenge, even though the unit had not previously exercised this capability and didn’t have the usual six months advanced notice,” said Lang.
After the tasking came down, Airmen across the 33rd FW quickly started organizing all the moving parts to ensure everything was set for the load.
“The 33rd Maintenance Group’s weapons standardization team began generating a weapons loading certification plan,” said Lang. “The 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron launched its effort to validate launch system reliability and collect information from operational F-35 units currently using the AIM-9X.”
Safety became a main concern with live munitions.
“AIM-9X is new and we have not worked with it before,” said Master Sgt. Milton Avant, 58th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons section chief. “Like with any munition we have to be safe and do our research to find out everything we need to know about the AIM-9X, so we can train the guys to be safe and to make sure they do the load appropriately.”
Part of the research was to become familiar with the AIM-9X as much as possible.
“The AIM-9X is an air-to-air missile and it is more technologically advanced than the AIM-9 missiles we have used in the past,” said Avant. “The AIM-9X is smarter than its predecessor, making it a good fit for the F-35.”
The 33rd FW got the opportunity to load live munitions this week because of the Weapons Standardization and Evaluation Program.
“Throughout the year, the Weapons Standardization and Evaluation Program comes through and visits different units and do what they call Combat Archer,” said Avant.
Combat Archer has been conducted since the late 1970’s, and is used to help Airmen be better prepared for combat missions.
“Combat Archer is important because it provides an ability to train and evaluate weapons systems under simulated combat environments, to include firing live missiles against remotely piloted targets,” said Lang.
The program evaluates weapon systems in their entirety, according to Lang. This includes aircraft, weapon delivery systems, weapons, aircrew, technical data and maintenance, to assess operational effectiveness, verify weapon system performance, determine reliability, evaluate capability and limitations, identify deficiencies and pursue corrective actions.
This marks the first AIM-9X flown and fired externally for the 33rd FW’s F-35s and all Nomads involved experienced something new.
“This is a distinct honor and responsibility our whole team takes very seriously and I am proud to be here and see the team’s efforts culminate in this week’s operations,” said Lang.