Leader Blues

Monday, July 27, 2009

TOp STORY >> Judging the world’s best

IN SHORT: Officer from Beebe is assigned to help choose the best airlifters.

Leader staff writer

One of the hardest jobs at the air rodeo at McChord Air Force Base may be that of the umpire, who must judge the best airlifters in the world.

Maj. Jon Ratz of the 19th Airlift Wing has that job, as an aerial umpire for the flying competition of all C-130 models.
“I judge the air crew portion of the air drop which includes low level navigation, short field landings and airdrops,” Ratz said.

“The other primary function of the umpire is that of a safety observer. I know what the plan is and can stop things from happening to prevent anyone getting hurt or things broken,” Ratz said.

Ratz, a Beebe resident, is one of 44 C-130 umpires. In fairness, he does not judge anyone from Little Rock Air Force Base and a judge does not fly with the same crew twice during the competition.

Ratz said it is a busy week, but the missions are short. He judges one mission a day. He said pressure is on the crews to perform well.

“The participants are striving for excellence and prepare for all the different events. We have to prepare, but not at the same level. We need to know exactly what the crews need to do based on the rules and judge them accordingly,” he said.
Ratz continued, “At this level of competition the differences are small. We are looking at the fine points, the slight differences between the abilities of the different crews.

“Everyone you meet here is a wonderful competitor. You want them to do well. You feel bad when they make small mistakes. You are trying to find who is the best. It is tough because they are all good,” he said.

Ratz said the air rodeo is a venue where airlifters can learn from each other. Everyone does the same thing with small, individual differences.

Each C-130 crew has two day missions and one night mission. Ratz said crews air drop a heavy equipment platform and a paratrooper jumps out of the plane.

The umpire is in the plane judging a crew’s navigational skills as they fly over several points on the ground. Then the crew is judged on reaching a drop zone at a specific time, measured in seconds.

Another portion of Ratz’s job is to make sure the C-130 landing is safe. He watches to see if the crew lands the plane in the middle of a touchdown zone that is 500-feet long and 60-feet wide. To gain all points, the plane must land at the 250-foot mark.