Maintenance unit's helicopter attains excellence twice in one day

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Rob Hazelett
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
For the first time since 2005, an HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the 56th Expeditionary Helicopter Maintenance Unit here achieved a perfect maintenance inspection rating.

Aircraft 89-6205, a 24-year old HH-60, achieved the coveted black-letter initial exceptional release, or ER, July 23. After the ER was signed, the HH-60 launched as part of a mission attributed to saving two lives later the same day.

Then, the helicopter returned to BAF and reached that status again on its next inspection.

"A black-letter initial exceptional release means there are zero discrepancies, zero maintenance actions that need to be done," said 1st Lt. Steven Ortner, the 56th EHMU officer in charge. "Zero inspections means the aircraft is 100 percent perfect. In layman's terms, it's the equivalent to driving a new vehicle off of the car dealership lot."

An exceptional release is required after any discrepancy is discovered or corrected on the aircraft and is required to be signed prior to the aircraft take off. An aircraft maintenance master sergeant or higher can sign the exceptional release off as long as they have been placed on the special certification roster, Ortner said.

"In my 16 years as a maintenance officer, I have only seen a military aircraft achieve this feat on two occasions, and both were in garrison during periods of low flying," said Lt. Col. Greg Lowe, the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. "To achieve this during combat operations is a testament to the professional maintainers of the 56th Expeditionary Helicopter Maintenance Unit and the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron."

The aircraft's four crew chiefs are deployed to Bagram Airfield from the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. They acknowledge maintaining operational readiness is a challenge, much less achieving perfection.

The fleet of HH-60s from RAF Lakenheath has an average of 15 to 20 minor discrepancies at any one time. To get one aircraft that does not have any write-ups on it is a rare occurrence.

"We have to be aggressive when it comes to working on the aircraft to ensure that we can still maintain the alert posture because the combat environment is different from home station," said Senior Airman David Stroup, a 56th EHMU assistant dedicated crew chief for Aircraft 89-6205, and a five-year crew chief.

There are typically minor discrepancies that prevent the black letter initial ER from taking place. Aircraft discrepancies range from anything such as a chipped knob, worn bracket, or a more serious issue like a component or system that is in-operable, which will ground the aircraft, Ortner said.

The latest black-letter initial ER isn't the first obtained during Master Sgt. Joel Ellis', 17-year Air Force career. He was the dedicated crew chief on Aircraft 89-6205 while stationed at Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland, in 2005.

"During that year, two of our HH-60s obtained black-letter initials within a couple of months from each other. One of those was (Aircraft 89-6205)," said Ellis, the 56th EHMU HH-60 lead production superintendent. "I understand the importance, dedication and teamwork that go into making this happen. It's great to be able to see this again eight years later on an aircraft I maintained and even better that I've signed the exceptional release to fly the helicopter on a point-of-injury alert mission."

Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Sinnwell has been the dedicated crew chief on the helicopter during the last 10 months. He is an aerospace engine technician by Air Force specialty code; however, he has taken on the challenge of expanding his knowledge base of becoming a qualified crew chief and is currently assigned as one of the lead crew chiefs on aircraft 89-6205. He has been an engine technician on the EC-130H Compass Call, C-130H Hercules and F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft.

"As maintainers, our goal is to give the pilots and flight engineers a quality and reliable product," Sinnwell said. "We're very proud of the black-letter exceptional release; it showcases the aggressive maintenance stance of our EHMU and the tremendous skills of our technicians."

So far, Aircraft 89-6205 has been attributed with five of the 13 total lives saved on missions during the two months the 56th EHMU has been in theater. Those numbers demonstrate the team effort that goes toward the maintenance on the aircraft.

The black letter initial ER remains until another discrepancy is discovered on the aircraft, which can happen during the next communications check, flight or inspection.