Nighthawk unit maintains the flock

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. James Madeiros
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The F-117 Nighthawk may be a mystery to some, but its maintainers take pride in knowing the airframe's secret inner workings.

In the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron's 8th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, a close-knit group of specialists work to keep the aircrews "putting bombs on target, on time." The unit is located at a forward-deployed location in Southwest Asia supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

"It's like a big family out here," said Senior Airman Mike Bodewitz, a Nighthawk crew chief. "Everybody looks out for each other, and everybody is serious about their job."

Nighthawk maintainers always work and deploy together, so there are no surprises regarding who they will work with in the field. The team already has an established history, which began at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

"I see these people more than I see my family," said Staff Sgt. Scott Gilkey, an F-117 engine mechanic. "We all work together back home, too. It's a good group of people."

Strong relationships like these are forged in working to meet a common goal, which, for a maintainer, is to keep their aircraft in operational condition at all times.

In the eyes of a maintainer, this kind of dedication is a matter of life and death.

"The pilot is putting his life in the maintainer's hands," said Bodewitz. "If the pilot does not trust the maintainer, then he should not be flying that aircraft. The maintainer needs to know what he's doing."

There are typically two to three crew chiefs per Nighthawk, explained Bodewitz. One person is a dedicated chief who is in charge of the aircraft, and that person has a number of assistants.

"My job is to keep the aircraft maintained for flying status," he said. "I rely on other people to get that jet in the air, but I am responsible. If it does not make the next sortie, it is because of me."

To make sorties, airmen in the 8th AMU must know where they need to be, and what they need to be doing.

"I make the final calls on a 'go, no go' on the engines. I keep the aircraft engines healthy," said Gilkey, who is one of only two engine troops assigned.

When a jet is "green up," it means that the aircraft is ready to fly, said Gilkey. And that means his work on the engine is complete.