Flying crew chiefs keep mission going downrange

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Chamberlin
  • 517th Aircraft Maintenance Unit flying crew chief
On a warm night at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, I watched 33 U.S. Marine military working dog handlers deplane with their bomb dogs. The ramp was quiet -- our C-17 Globemaster III was the only aircraft I could see.

It had been a long day so far. After almost seven hours flying from Germany, there was a lot to be done. I waited anxiously for the last of our passengers to leave so I could reach my ladder on the wall and start servicing engine oil. While our loadmasters began downloading the nine pallets we had on board, I slipped right into my routine. I replenished all the engine oil that had burned off during the long flight, then it was time for an exterior inspection. While I was crouched down in the gear pod looking at our tires, I saw the loadmaster coming my way.

"Loadmasters don't belong in the gear pod," I thought to myself.

"Hey chief, better come look at this," he said to me with a huge smirk.

I knew this was going to be a good one. As we walked back towards the cargo ramp, I could see the cloud of fine mist forming. A quick look revealed we had a pin-hole leak in a pressurized hydraulic line. Just like that, the C-17 was broken. The mission stopped dead in its tracks -- we would not be quick-turning for our next stop that night.

It was my time to shine. All eyes were on the flying crew chief. I was already long into my duty day but the work had just begun. Using the aircraft's on-board satellite phone, I got in touch with hydraulic experts back at home station. With the aid of Boeing engineers, determined that I could disconnect this line and cap it off, effectively disabling a non-essential system and returning the aircraft to flyable condition.

It sounded like a good plan, but I did not have a cap that fit the line. After I hung up, I got in touch with the local transient alert driver and we took a ride down to the HH-60 Pave Hawk rescue squadron with hopes the local guys at Bastion had the caps we needed in their supply.

I was in luck. The helicopter guys had a huge supply container with multiple spare parts. I helped myself to one of every size fitting and I was on my way.

We got back to the jet and I had the line disconnected and capped off in a few minutes. I finished cleaning up all the leaked fluid and replenished the reservoir to compensate for what had leaked. Our aircraft commander made a couple of phone calls to let the airlift mission controllers know that we were fixed and they kicked us a new flight package.

With nothing but a few phone calls, some local maintenance help and an hour of turning wrenches, this Operation Enduring Freedom mission was back on track with less than a 24-hour delay.

This was one of the hardest, most demanding days I've had in over a year of flying with the C-17, but it's also one I remember very fondly. Scenarios like this are a perfect example of why we have flying crew chiefs.

When an aircraft is away from the elaborate support infrastructure of home station, the FCC shares the burden of ensuring the jet is properly maintained for flight. Flying crew chiefs do everything from handling routine post-flight and pre-flight inspections and fuel servicing, to troubleshooting and repairing problems with engines, hydraulics, environmental or avionics systems.

An FCC is typically a very experienced maintainer on the airframe who is qualified in many different maintenance tasks. Yet, no matter how much you know, every mission is different and there are always new hurdles to overcome. That is what I love most about this job. Every day on the road is a new opportunity to apply everything I have learned, to adapt to things I have never encountered and to always be at the forefront, seeing the impact of a mission well done.

It's a demanding, ever-changing, 24/7 commitment that I would not trade for any other job in the Air Force.