A Look at Naval Aviation’s Enlisted Ratings: Aviation Ordnanceman
By AOC (AW) Charles W. Potter
They don’t wear fancy flight suits or have flashy call signs. Colorful shirts are their identifiers when they swarm the flight deck, caring for and preparing the carrier?s aircraft for its next mission, while making sure that everything is ready and in order for the next important launch or recovery.
This ongoing series from Naval Aviation News will peek behind the curtain to take a look at the enlisted Sailors supporting Naval Aviation and the jobs they perform to keep our aircraft not only up and running, but the most formidable in the world.
Spend any amount of time on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier or a naval air station flight line and you will likely see a flurry of Aviation Ordnancemen (AO) wearing red cranials, preforming their carefully choreographed explosive ballet. AOs, or “ordies” for short, may be best known for loading explosive weapons on the Navy’s most advanced aircraft, but they do much more than that. Ordies are a diverse group of people working on many different platforms of naval aircraft, classes of ships, and at support facilities around the world.
To qualify as an AO, the sailor should have average competence with tools and equipment and be able to work in all types of environments. They should also be physically fit, have a strong ability to work in a team, and qualify for a secret security clearance. The life of most AO’s begins at NAS Pensacola, Fla. where they enter class “A” school: a nine-week course that includes basic aviation theory, aircraft, general weapons studies with related support equipment, and weapon troubleshooting. After completion of A school, some of the fleet’s newest ordies will move to “C” school for advanced weapon system and technical publication training tailored to specific platforms of aircraft prior to their squadron assignment. Other students may continue to assignments onboard ships or Fleet Readiness Centers (FRC) throughout the Navy. The role of the AO remains as challenging today, if not more so, as in the past. To dismiss the ordies as just ordnance pushing redshirts is to pigeonhole them in dated misconceptions, as their job requires them to do so much more than load explosives on aircraft. Although much of the heavy lifting and dirty work is the same, ordies must now navigate advanced weapon systems and aircraft, while adapting to the intricate components of aircraft computers. Much like their brethren of old however, AOs also still rely on good old fashioned experience handed down from others to complete their mission.
The Aviation Ordnance rating comes with multiple specialized skills and requirements, such as maintaining and troubleshooting weapon systems and working closely with the aviation electronics technician. The AO also needs to understand how the weapons they load onto the aircraft operate and all the steps necessary for the aircraft to deliver the weapon on target. The AO will often have to troubleshoot a specific weapons system or component on the aircraft after flight due to a weapons failure or system gripe associated with a specific weapon or component. Sometimes the discrepancy cannot be fixed at the squadron level and the AO must remove and replace the faulty component, usually a bomb rack or missile launcher, and turn it into the FRC for repair or rework.
AOs work under strict guidelines. Not only do they comply with all Naval Aviation maintenance practices, they must also follow all associated weapons guidelines and policies. If working with explosives is not dangerous enough, they also have to deal with the sheer weight of the weapons. On average, each weapon weighs between 100 to 1,000 lbs. and are often loaded and unloaded by hand several times per day. Proper technique in handling these weapons greatly reduces the possibility of injury from lifting such heavy loads.
AOs never work alone. Their duties are always performed in teams while under the watchful eye of the quality assurance/safety observer and direction from the team leader. From the construction of the ordnance at a weapons station or ship, to the loading those same weapons on the aircraft, AOs operate as a finely-tuned unit to ensure the safety of all those involved with and around those weapon systems.
Ordies are constantly faced with challenging conditions, as the majority of their work is done outdoors in every environment possible. From a December work-up cycle in sub-zero temperatures off the coast of Virginia, to 115 degree flight deck temperatures in the Middle East, ordies must be flexible and disciplined enough to operate in the most extreme conditions. Despite the conditions, it is their duty to ensure the weapon systems are maintained, properly loaded, and have all discrepancies fixed in order to keep the aircraft ready for any mission.
From the most junior AO to the weapons officer, everyone is accountable for weapons and their components. Every ordie must count, track, and properly expend every piece of ordnance, as well as stow and inventory every weapon ranging from small arms bullets to large bombs and missiles. One-hundred percent accountability holds true to every rate in the Navy, but none more so than the AO, due to the nature of the explosives and security classification of specific weapons.
One of the things most prized with AOs is the brotherhood each one has for his or her peers. Ordies are one of very few rates that have their own association and provides a fraternity with chapters globally. From the flight deck to the weapons magazines below decks, one would be hard pressed to find a group of men and women as dedicated to the job and mission as the Navy’s Aviation Ordnanceman!
AOC (AW) Charles W Potter is the ammunition accounting manager and weapons supervisor at CVW-7.