Skip to comments.Maintainers multi-task to keep C-17s safe
Posted on 03/27/2006 3:55:22 PM PST by SandRat
3/27/2006 - MANAS AIR BASE, Kyrgyzstan (AFPN) -- In a dusty tent in the middle of maintenance town, computers are humming and a lone radio squawks the status of an incoming C-17 Globemaster III. The only sign that anybody works here is a row of desert camouflage blouses hung neatly near the door.
A few of them belong to crew chiefs. The rest were shed by jet engine specialists, hydraulics specialists, navigation and avionics specialists, and fuel cell specialists as the calls came in for one jet landing after another.
Were all crew chiefs here, said Staff Sgt. Jason Wells, one of three C-17 engine specialists in the 376th Air Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. We have to be.
More than 10,000 short tons of cargo and nearly 40,000 people have moved in and out of Manas Air Base since the beginning of January -- record-breaking numbers since the closing of Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan shouldered Manas with a workload that used to be split between two bases.
The high workload means several C-17s are out at a time, some turning around twice in a day. Jets are high-maintenance -- every one of them requires an inspection at least every 72 hours, even if it isnt flying, in addition to pre- and post-flight maintenance with every turn-around. With only a few crew chiefs in the ranks, the entire C-17 maintenance flight is becoming proficient in many of these routine tasks.
I never changed a tire before coming here, Sergeant Wells said. Ive learned a lot.
Generally, a crew chief is paired with two specialists for post-flight maintenance, said Airman 1st Class Adam Snedden, a crew chief. The crew chiefs double as trainers, working hard to bring the others up to speed on tasks like checking fluid levels and attaching fuel lines. If a jet calls in an engine problem, engine specialists will be assigned to the crew so they can fix the engine after completing post-flight maintenance under the crew chiefs supervision.
The more others can do, the better the entire team can manage its time and the more quickly jets become mission-ready.
Its just like any other job, if you decide to be good at it, youre going to be good at it," Airman Snedden said. "It really matters that this is done right, we have a lot of responsibility on our hands making sure these jets are safe to fly.
The training is all recorded, and after several deployments, some specialists are almost fully qualified crew chiefs, said Senior Airman Randy Kroeger, a hydraulics specialist. Hes going to certify as a flying crew chief in the next few months, he said.
These duties are additional to specialized maintenance they would normally be doing exclusively, said Staff Sgt. David Ritchie, who is also a jet engine specialist. It keeps them busy. With such a small number of people to accomplish such a large mission, most of them are on-call even on their days off.
But its a life they love -- he and Sergeant Wells agreed.
The best thing about it is we never see the same thing twice, Sergeant Ritchie said. He said he enjoys troubleshooting and getting to the root of a problem.
I havent taken a day off in.... two weeks, said Sergeant Wells, laughing as he realized how long it had been.
The C-17 is a heavily-tasked airframe for operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, transporting military personnel and cargo critical to the fight in all directions. As the maintainers here work to keep the airframe safe for flight, the people counting on them are never far from their minds, Sergeant Wells said.
Those are lives were taking care of, he said. Thats a $250 million aircraft. When thats what youre dealing with -- we really do everything we can to keep it safe.
Until the cold war was won, in 1989, the C-17 was to be the replacement for the EC-135. The majority of EC's were parked in 1989 with the end of the cold war, and the need for C-17's ended. In 1998 the last of the old EC=135C/Looking Glass Aircraft were parked.
One of the things we take for granted until we become informed that it's hard, complex work.