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576th FLTS missile handling team prepares ICBM boosters, destruct packages for test launches

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Airmen serve in many capacities across the Air Force, but few are entrusted with maintaining and operating the world's most powerful weapons systems.

Missile maintainers assigned to the 576th Flight Test Squadron missile handling team are a part of a select group of Air Force professionals who understand this responsibility and play a critical role in every Intercontinental Ballistic Missile test launch that occurs here in support of the Air Force's nuclear deterrence mission.

The 576th FLTS launches three to four unarmed ICBMs annually to test and evaluate their effectiveness and they provide their findings to joint and Air Force senior leaders. While it takes numerous missile maintenance teams to ensure each launch is successful, missile handling teams specialize in transporting and handling ICBM boosters and installing the Flight Destruct Ordnance Package, which allows the 30th Space Wing mission flight control officer to destroy the missile if it is expected to travel outside predetermined safety limits during the test flight.

Tech. Sgt. Jason Rose, 576th FLTS missile handling team assistant noncommissioned officer in charge, has been a missile maintenance technician and trainer at multiple ICBM bases for more than a decade. Rose said missile handling teams have a unique, but rewarding job in configuring the ICBM for test launches.

"We bring in a Minuteman III from an operational base and roll it into the building to remove the raceway section of the missile," Rose said. "When we process a missile, we install the destruct package, linear charges and check the instrumentation cable to ensure it has continuity."

It takes missile handling teams about 10 days to finish installing the booster and destruct package on the missile. Rose said they also team up with other missile maintenance teams from their squadron to install other components to ensure the ICBM is ready on launch day.

"We are all 2M0X2s for missile maintenance and missile handling teams, but our team installs the downstage and other teams will facilitate the install of the post boost control system" Rose said. "Once we install it, they will come on site and install their components on top of the booster."

Senior Airman Austin Hoyt, 576th FLTS missile handling team technician and trainer, also has operational experience maintaining ICBMs when he was assigned to the 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. When Hoyt joined the 576th FLTS missile handling team about 18 months ago, he learned quickly there was a common bond and respect among missile maintainers.

"It's a very tight-knit family working with these guys," Hoyt said. "We're all different ranks, but you can tell that when I'm trying to train someone who is higher ranking than me that they respect it. They listen to what I have to say with no questions asked. Everyone in the shop are friends outside of work too."

While the 576th FLTS may be small in numbers, each Airman remains committed to making the squadron a premier testing unit that demonstrates deterrence and the future of ICBM missiles in America's defense.