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Crew chiefs maintain cargo, bomber, tanker aircraft

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Candy Miller
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
Aircraft maintainers have the duty to fix any problems from the nose to the tail of the aircraft and everything inbetween.

All crew chiefs carry the responsibility of the physical condition of aircraft, but crew chiefs for heavy aircraft carry the responsibility of maintaining aircraft capable of a minimum takeoff weight of about 255,000 pounds including bomber, cargo and tanker aircraft.

Ensuring heavy aircraft can complete their mission for the Air Force starts at Sheppard in the 362nd Training Squadron's Heavy Training Flight. There are about 500 Airmen at any given time attending crew chief training.

Flight instructor Tech. Sgt. Chris Finley said all cargo aircraft crew chiefs come to Sheppard to learn the fundamentals of the job including how to use the training manuals, how to park the aircraft with hand signals, aircraft parts and other basic information. Students will then learn more detail about their particular aircraft during follow-on courses, which could be at a variety of installations.

Sergeant Finley said the flight uses virtual simulations, functional aircraft and hands-on training to prepare student for their careers.

Airman 1st Class Jonathan Ordonez, KC-135 class crew chief student, said he recognizes the value in his job because his plane transports cargo, transfers troops to complete their missions and conducts mid-air refueling and reconnaissance missions.

He said he is responsible for making sure his aircraft is ready for flight and he takes that job seriously.

"If I don't do my job right, the plane could crash," Airman Ordonez said. "That would jeopardize the mission and end lives."

Sergeant Finley said heavy maintainers have to know the various parts and pieces of the aircraft to be able to recognize problems. Airmen are not encouraged not to memorize everything on the aircraft. They must follow the checklists on their technical orders to ensure all areas of the aircraft are ready for the next flight.

"Maintainers must use these checklists and technical orders every time they inspect, no matter how familiar they are with the material," he said. "This method prevents mishaps, because they can't forget something if they're following a checklist."

Airman Ordonez said the step-by-step instructions in the TO are important because there is no room for error in a maintainer's career field.

When a plane lands, crew chiefs have an overall inspection to prepare it for the next flight. Ideally, if there is a problem or something that needs attention, the crew chiefs will call the specialist for a closer look, but they must know the aircraft and follow the TO recognize a problem.

"The biggest difference in heavy crew chiefs and fighter maintainers are the number of people needed for the work," Sergeant Finley said. "Three crew chiefs would need at least eight hours for a thorough pre-flight inspection of a heavy aircraft, such as a KC-135."

He said one maintainer can complete a pre-flight inspection on fighter aircraft in about two or three hours.

Follow on courses at Sheppard include training for the B-1, B-52, C-130, KC-135 and KC-10.