A U.S. Air Force weapons load crew assigned to the 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron loads a live GBU-12 into an F-35A January 18, 2017, at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The 33rd Fighter Wing loaded and released the Air Education and Training Command’s first live bombs from an F-35A. Six aircraft were loaded with armed GBU-12s, and two bombs were released over the Eglin Air Force Base range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

The 33rd Fighter Wing loaded and released the Air Education and Training Command’s first live bombs from an F-35A here, January 17.

In total, six aircraft were loaded with armed GBU-12s, and two bombs were released over the Eglin Air Force Base range.

The GBU-12 is a 500-pound laser guided general-purpose bomb. The F-35 can carry a combined payload of 2.3K pounds of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions internally, with an extended capacity of munitions on each wing.

“I’m incredibly proud of our maintainers and pilots for successfully loading and releasing bombs on the range this week,” said Col. Lance Pilch, 33rd FW commander. “This further proves our Airmen and Sailors are the lethality behind this weapons system.”

While this is the first live bomb to be loaded into an F-35A here, weapons personnel also regularly load the 2,000-pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition and the AIM-120 missile as part of their training and readiness.

“It’s no accident that our load crews are good at what they do,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jennifer Dunn, 33rd FW wing weapons manager, “Each weapons loader hones their loading skills under the scrutiny of evaluators, strict adherence to technical orders and up against stringent time standards on a monthly basis. I am very proud of every weapons loader in the 33rd FW. Each and every one played an integral role in making this weeks’ events successful. They worked hard for this achievement and they all earned it.”

The first F-35A weapons load crews here were certified just over two years ago. For several of the former students, who are as young as 21 years, this was their first time loading live munitions on any aircraft platform.

“It feels great to have been here for two years and see the program develop and grow,” said Airman 1st Class Jacob Chandler, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft armament systems journeyman. “It’s awesome to be a part of this and it’s possible because of the training we receive.”

Much of the success in loading these live weapons is due to the in-depth training that load crews receive. However, their leadership accredits it to these Airmen’s drive and vision.

“This is almost second nature to them,” said Technical Sgt. Zachary Watts, 33rd Maintenance Group loading standardization crew member. “They are fully prepared to execute their mission and it shows. It speaks to the type of Airmen we are getting in today’s Air Force. They want to work hard, they try hard and they do what they are supposed to. They have initiative and prove we are moving in a good direction.”