News>F-16 crew chiefs combat odds to keep jets in flight
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Senior Airman Lance Murphy inspects the engine bay of an F-16 Fighting Falcon. He is a crew chief with the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Bradford)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Senior Airman Shawn Justus (left) and Airman 1st Class Colin Muller prepare for an 800-hour maintenance procedure and inspection on an F-16 Fighting Falcon. They are crew chiefs with the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Bradford)
BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Senior Airman Frankie Jordan helps Capt. Andy Stockman with his bag upon the captain's return from a mission. Airman Jordan is a crew chief with the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, and Captain Stockman is an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with the 34th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Bradford)
by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Maurice
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
4/15/2005 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- As the sun beats down upon him, an Airman wipes the sweat from his brow, spreading the layer of grease and oil from his hands onto his forehead. Consumed by the task at hand, he remains focused knowing his jet needs to be ready to take off within the hour.
Suddenly, his work is put on hold.
“This is Panther, alarm red, alarm red, all personnel don your individual protective gear and take cover at the nearest shelter,” comes a voice over the base intercom.
He follows instruction and waits patiently for the all clear so he can dive back into his work.
He is accustomed to such working conditions by now -- the extreme summer heat, freezing winter cold and pouring rain. The long hours and necessity to stop what he is doing and seek shelter are all a part of his routine. He is an F-16 Fighting Falcon crew chief. What he does is not a job, it is a lifestyle.
“As a crew chief, you have to enjoy working in the cold, in the heat and in the rain. You have to enjoy getting your hands dirty and putting in the long hours,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Perry, a crew chief with the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here. “But seeing your jet take off two or three times a day and return home safely each time -- that’s the real reward. Having that pilot climb out and say, ‘Great job chief’ makes it worth it.”
With about 38 crew chiefs to maintain the F-16s here, the maintainers are always busy.
“Here, we have half the (number) of jets that we do back home, and they’re still flying just as many missions, if not more, so it can get pretty hectic at times,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Baldwin, assistant flight chief with the 332nd EAMXS. “We always have to be on top of our game here. There isn’t room for errors.”
As crew chiefs, each Airman needs to have basic knowledge in all systems related to his or her aircraft, including its avionics, weapons and electrical systems.
“An F-16 crew chief is like a NASCAR crew chief,” Sergeant Perry said. “We have to know what we’re doing and act quickly.”
Some of the tasks crew chiefs are responsible for include basic post-flight, preflight and walk around inspections of the aircraft, acceptance and transfer inspections, ground-handling operations, launch and recovery, and aircraft maintenance. But as Sergeant Baldwin said, these tasks take time to learn and lots of training to be proficient in.
Crew chiefs have to graduate from two technical schools and total nine months of training before they can claim their title. Then, like every Air Force career, they have upgrade and on-the-job training.
“The work these guys are putting out here is phenomenal,” Sergeant Baldwin said. “We deployed with half our people still doing (career development courses), awaiting upgrade to 5- or 7-level or just graduating technical school. In the short time we have been here, they have not only had to dive into their jobs but make sure they study for upgrade as well. They’re all doing great.”
Sergeant Baldwin said all the crew chiefs here work as a team.
“There really is a lot of work that goes into every jet on the flightline,” Sergeant Baldwin said. “We usually put in about 12 to 14 hours of work a day. But everything we do, we do as a team. We start our day together, and we end it together. We’re a family out here.”
So come heat, cold, rain, endless days and alarm reds, the crew chiefs of the 332nd EAMXS remain focused on the mission and continue to make sure their jets take off and come back safely every day.