Maintainers keep heart of Air Force pumping

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Renni Thornton
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
For the Airmen of the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, keeping the aircraft fine-tuned and serviced is serious business. So when an operator reports a problem, the crew chiefs and other maintainers treat it like an emergency room technician would.

"When someone visits the emergency room he or she is assessed or triaged," said Capt. Duane Richardson, the 451st EAMXS C-130J Super Hercules Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintenance officer in charge. "The doctors want to know what symptoms the patient is experiencing and how to best treat them and he or she needs to know quickly. The same holds true for aircraft maintenance."

"The crew chiefs and pilots talk about the performance of the plane," he said. "Sometimes the pilots report funny noises or system hiccups. At that point, the crew chiefs begin to 'triage' or assess the plane."

That's when we start troubleshooting, said Senior Airman William Heptig, a C-130J crew chief. But sometimes, it's hard to figure out where to begin.

"We ask questions to find out what the system was doing at the time of the malfunction," he said. "Sometimes we can locate the problem easily but other times..., it can be interesting."

It can also be difficult to determine where to begin troubleshooting if the flying crew can't accurately describe what was happening at the time the problem occurred, Captain Richardson said.

As with a triage assessment, the crew chiefs must have a thorough general knowledge of every system on the aircraft in order to "diagnose" the problem. Then, sometimes a specialist is called.

The specialists include communications navigation, electronic warfare, guidance and control, hydraulics, engines, and electro-environmental experts.

Staff Sgt. Riaaz Hosein is one of those specialists. He is an aircraft hydraulics system craftsman and has worked on the C-130Js for the past two years at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

"We diagnose problems associated with the landing gear, guidance control and steering faults. Other service areas that fall into that arena include brakes and preventative maintenance.

Sergeant Hosein said being around the other specialists helps him learn the aircraft and the other systems.

"Not many other systems overlap with hydraulics, but the more I learn about the aircraft and the different systems, the more it helps me know about my job," he said.

However there are times when some system problems overlap into different areas, Captain Richardson said.

"During some surgeries, there may be two different surgeons with different specialties in the operating room because the surgery may delve into each of their areas of expertise. Same thing with these guys," he said. "One night, I was out on an aircraft and the electrical and environmental technicians were working with the jet engine technicians on a problem because their systems overlap within the engine itself. They work together to make sure they pinpoint and repair the problem correctly."

The worst part of maintaining the system is the drastic effects the change in temperatures has on the critical fluid and the aircraft, Sergeant Hosein said.

"When temperatures on the ground are 100 degrees or more, the temps in the air can drop as low as minus 30 degrees. That wreaks havoc on the system."

Despite temperature changes, broken parts and troubleshooting, specialists like engine mechanic Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Thompson, said he enjoys it all.

"One of the best parts of this job is knowing that when the planes take off to fly a mission, we have done all the inspections and repairs to ensure it has a successful flight," he said.
But that pride is constant among the group and makes his job as maintenance officer much easier, Captain Richardson said.

"These guys are one of the most professional groups I've seen," he said. "They call each other by rank and last names and they use the technical orders every time they perform an inspection or any type of maintenance. I'm very impressed with all of them. Part of my job is to take care of them and they make it very easy for me to do that."

"Some operators will tell the crews, 'good job' or 'great plane,' and some will bring the guys snacks or something," Captain Richardson said. "But these guys know that what they do every day is the most valuable thing they can contribute to the mission. Without crew chiefs and specialists, operators couldn't do what they do. And while they don't always get patted on the back, they are okay with that."