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Crew chiefs keep aircraft fit for flight

Staff Sgt. Patrick Gaudet, 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, inspects the propeller blade of a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to make sure there are no cracks or other damage Jan. 26, 2018, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Crew chiefs are responsible for performing numerous checks, tests and maintenance on aircraft to make sure the Air Force fleet is fit for flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

Staff Sgt. Patrick Gaudet, 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, inspects the propeller blade of a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to make sure there are no cracks or other damage Jan. 26, 2018, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Crew chiefs are responsible for performing numerous checks, tests and maintenance on aircraft to make sure the Air Force fleet is fit for flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

Tech. Sgt. Seth Johnson (right), 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, trains Tech. Sgt. Steven Carter, 803rd AMXS instrument flight control systems technician, how to moor a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to the flight line to protect it from high winds Jan. 26, 2018, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Crew chiefs are responsible for performing numerous checks, tests and maintenance on aircraft to make sure the Air Force fleet is fit for flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

Tech. Sgt. Seth Johnson (right), 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, trains Tech. Sgt. Steven Carter, 803rd AMXS instrument flight control systems technician, how to moor a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to the flight line to protect it from high winds Jan. 26, 2018, at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Crew chiefs are responsible for performing numerous checks, tests and maintenance on aircraft to make sure the Air Force fleet is fit for flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The Air Force has many careers and specialties tailored toward ensuring its fleet of aircraft are fit for flight. Before those aircraft can even get off the ground, they need to undergo numerous checks, tests and servicing to make sure they are safe to fly. One group of people charged with this responsibility is the crew chiefs.

According to Tech. Sgt. Steven Lessard, 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, the crew chiefs are essentially responsible for the overall care and maintenance of the aircraft. They perform general inspections on the planes to ensure nothing is broken or missing so the aircraft are ready to fly.

“We’re here to provide a safe and working aircraft for the aircrew to support the flying mission,” said Lessard.

One of the responsibilities crew chiefs have is performing basic pre-flight inspections of the aircraft so they can fix any issues that might arise or refer them to other maintenance subject-matter experts should the issue be something more specific. These basic responsibilities include tasks such as making sure no panels are missing from the aircraft, tires are inflated properly, the plane has enough fuel, ensuring there are no nicks or tears in cables, and accurately documenting any issues that need to be addressed.

“We need to make sure that when we’re doing inspections all the forms and documentation are accurate because we’re the ones who decide whether a plane is ready to fly or not,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Gaudet, a dedicated crew chief with the 403rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Both the 803rd and 403rd AMXS fall under the command of the 403rd Wing here, which has two flying squadrons: the 815th Airlift Squadron “Flying Jennies,” a tactical airlift unit that flies the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, and the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters,” which flies the WC-130J version to gather weather data during tropical and winter storm missions.

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Jester, 803rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent, said that, because of the rigors associated with their specific missions, the aircraft for these squadrons can undergo quite a bit of wear and tear.

“We try to give the aircrew the best aircraft we can,” said Jester. “These airplanes – especially when they’re doing combat missions – they go through stresses that normal commercial aircraft don’t, so one day components can be good and the next day something could have gotten tweaked the wrong way, so we can have very unique issues that we have to work through.”

One issue the 803rd AMXS crew chiefs resolved recently occurred during a training flight while at the Nevada Air National Guard Base, Oct. 13, 2017. Master Sgt. Michael Lee, 803rd AMXS dedicated crew chief, said that one hour into the flight the C-130J aircrew accidently hit a large bird, ripping an eight-inch gash in the leading edge of the right wing. The aircrew managed to land the plane safely, but the crew chiefs had to call their team members back at Keesler for help. They had to fly out another plane with replacement parts for the leading edge since the Nevada Guard only had parts for the H-model C-130s. Lee and the other crew chiefs had the plane fixed by Oct. 17 so it could fly back home the next day.

“I’ve been trained to repair any airframe or power plant portion of (the C-130), so I take off leading edges, doors or whatever the airplane may need replaced,” said Lee.

Lee has been working on C-130s for more than 30 years, so he said that he and many of the other crew chiefs have a wealth of experience that allows them to perform quick turnarounds for the aircraft to get them flying safely again.

Jester emphasized the importance of the training the crew chiefs receive because it helps them keep the Air Force fleet fit for flight.

“Regardless of whether we’re deployed or at home station, tech-data guidance, safety and training are always paramount. We practice like we play, and then go over and do the job,” said Jester. “The main difference is that here (at home station) we’re fortunate enough to have that time to train these guys to do things the right way – by the book, safely. But when we’re deployed, we expect them to have that muscle memory in place so they can do what they need to. That’s why we train the way we do.”