VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
The missile transporter resembled a toy truck sitting on the flightline, dwarfed by the imposing C-17 Globemaster III. The bay door of the C-17 opened like the lazy yawn of an alligator, the Airmen of the 30th Logistics Readiness Squadron air terminal, set to work laying out ramps and staging chains to tie down the vehicle for when it would be loaded.
The air terminal at Vandenberg may not have the fast-paced tempo of an aircraft-centric base, but the items they move with their small crew tend to be of historical significance. Most recently, they shipped a missile transporter for the Missile Defense Agency and Boeing to Alaska, with a newly repaired interceptor missile aboard.
“We have a lot of scrutiny on the things we load,” said Airman 1st Class Nicholas Van Tuinen, 30th LRS air terminal apprentice. “The customer is out there overseeing everything we are doing because of how sensitive the equipment is. Sometimes we have movements for NASA where they have camera operators out there documenting everything, because it is so expensive and so delicate. We are moving some very high visibility equipment that the smallest mistake could damage.”
The process for determining how some of the equipment has to be handled can require specialized directions that aren’t in a standard Air Force manual.
“The equipment we ship is often so specialized it has a letter from a single authority that says it can fly, but only under certain circumstances,” said Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Cumbie, 30th LRS air terminal section chief.
The military still must abide by international flight regulations, adding yet another layer of mandatory compliance for the air terminal to work with.
“Just because it’s a military operation doesn’t mean we go ahead and throw away all international rules of flight,” said Cumbie. “We still have to follow all international hazardous materials rules for flight. We have special circumstances that allow us to do things a commercial carrier couldn’t do, but we still have to be very diligent when following those rules.”
Safety is the primary concern for the air terminal, and if the materials are such that they can’t be shipped together, another method must be found.
“The owner of the aircraft will come to us and say that they have to move something,” said Cumbie. “We evaluate what they have to move and then measure those parameters against the aircraft. We tell them whether we can move it, or if they have to make alterations to the cargo first. Once all of the precise guidelines have been met, we start the process of weighing the item to be shipped and placing it optimally within the aircraft. They are going to get their stuff to the destination one way or another, it’s just a matter of doing it safely in flight.”