An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

5 hours of work; 15 seconds of action

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nathan Clark
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III flies low, with its cargo door open. In 30 seconds it will drop two tons of much needed food and water to a disaster stricken country, landing safely thanks to two T12 Echo parachutes.

The ability to off-load large amounts of supplies from a cargo aircraft without having to ever touch the ground is made possible by an aerial delivery specialist rigger.

One of the missions at Altus Air Force Base is training and qualifying C-17 loadmasters whom to graduate, must complete four air drops. This is where the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron comes into play.  

"Our responsibility is to ensure the airdrop pallets and cargo are properly rigged up after we get a request from the loadmasters," said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Derek Bradley, 97th LRS aerial delivery specialist. "We do everything from packing the parachute to loading the platform on the aircraft."

And in the Altus AFB's training environment, they stay busy preparing for air drops.

"Depending on the weather and a few other factors, we could have two drops a week or 40," said Bradley. "When it gets backed up like this, that is when we have to rely on each other to get the job done."

Small in numbers, the rigger career field is primarily a U.S. Army role, but a handful of aerial delivery specialists are selected to attend a month-long rigger qualification training course after becoming proficient in the air freight operations.

"Technically the air freight section can rig, but everything must be checked by a certified rigger," said Bradley. "Everything we do from the parachute themselves, to the platforms have many checks to make sure there're no flaws."

The importance of ensuring a platform is ready to be dropped, comes with good reason.

"We build the platforms from the ground up and if for some reason the chute doesn't deploy, that's on us" said Bradley. "We will assemble the actual platform, load and secure the requested cargo and pack the parachutes. After our checks, we will take the platforms out to the aircraft and load them up. Altogether we will put about five hours of work into it one platform that will take about 15 seconds to hit the ground after leaving the aircraft."

Even once the drop is over, the riggers job is not done. They must then retrieve and store the chutes, each weighing more than 100 pounds. The platforms are then stacked and loaded onto a flatbed trailer by a forklift. 

Since the riggers follow the platforms from beginning to end, they are able get the satisfaction of seeing their work in action.

"I enjoy most parts of my job, actually," said Bradley. "Building platforms is relaxing. I get some time to myself and I can easily see the finished product. I also love recovering because it's rewarding to see your own work being used and successful."

Being able to see their work in action is something the riggers can be proud of, not because they did a good job, but because they understand the importance of their missions.

"It's pretty critical, whether it's a drop or just being unloaded on the ground. Getting the supplies to the target could mean the difference between life and death for someone," said Bradley. "But when you can't get the cargo there via land, which happens a lot, air might be your only option. The riggers help make that possible."