The open day at the Portland ANG base included a demonstration of missile loading. A jet had been parked out on the ramp for the morning and there was a rack of missiles also on display. Towards the end of the morning, a team started to prep the jet for loading. This was an exercise that had multiple purposes. It was a demonstration for the guests, but it was also a qualification test.
Apparently, the crews are required to carry out a loading drill every 90 days when they are timed and observed in order to maintain their qualifications. Therefore, a pair of observers were there to watch the three-person team do their work. It can’t have been fun to have the public watching and the assessment team overseeing you at the same time. The crew got to it though and they seemed to be diligently following every procedure which is no bad thing when you are potentially dealing with live weapons (not that these examples were in any way live).
The missile configuration was quite a mix. They had six AMRAAMS to load, four on the fuselage and two on the stub pylons. The other two stubs were fitted with an AIM-9M and an AIM-9X. The Sidewinders were loaded by hand but the AMRAAMs are heavier and required the use of a mechanical loader. Prepping the plane before the missiles came close took a while and then the missiles were loaded in sequence with things like fins being added at different times such that some were on before the missile was attached and some were added once it was installed.
Once the whole task was completed, they reversed the process and removed the missiles. There was some choreography involved with getting the loader in place. It is not a subtle piece of machinery, but it could be placed quite accurately. Then there is adjustability in the rotation and position of the missile holders to allow things to be fine-tuned into position. Maneuvering a missile on to the rail or the launcher while not hitting anything else also requires some careful work. It was a most interesting process to watch.
The wings for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are not built in the US. They come from Japan and they make the journey in the 747-400LCF Dreamlifter. The process for unloading them is very well practiced. The aircraft lands and is parked up. The tail is then swung open to expose the cavernous hold. A transporter pulls up behind the lane and elevates its deck to level with the aircraft. The wings are in a cradle that then slides out of the plane and on to the transporter. It then backs away and lowers down before driving the wings into a storage building.
While this was going on, other fuselage parts could be seen inside. With production running at a high rate, this process is repeated every few days. I have never yet seen the Belugas at work for Airbus doing the same sort of thing but I would like to some day. Their new aircraft are currently being assembled so they will soon have more capacity. I don’t know whether Boeing will need more of the Dreamlifters at some point but the current fleet seems to be kept busy.
Waiting on the ramp at Moffett Field for Solar Impulse, over on the other side of the field we could see another visitor. An Antonov AN124 Ruslan was parked up with its nosed raised in the process of loading a payload. It looked a bit like a satellite container and, given the proximity of two satellite manufacturers, that wouldn’t be improbable. It was a long way off but I had some time to try and get a shot and this was what I got.