Crew chiefs vital to aircraft dispatch

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class Patrick Cabellon
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
At 0720 hours, the large open room begins filling with Airmen - roll call. The Airmen hear about the plan for the day, learn about activities they can volunteer for such as charities or fund raisers, and get their daily safety briefing and assignments before dispersing to go about their duties. So begins the day of crew chiefs. 

Crew chiefs are the most vital people in dispatching an aircraft, according to Tech. Sgt. Thomas Burke, 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron unit career advisor. "They do preventive maintenance on the aircraft and aircraft equipment. Before flying, they perform checks to ensure the aircraft has been properly serviced with fuel, hydraulic fluid and liquid oxygen. They perform general mechanical work as opposed to working on a particular system. They are a jack of all trades, basically. They are 'the man.' " 

Tech. Sgt. Ray Green, one of "the man" - a crew chief with the 446th AMXS, steps through the door leading to the flightline and heads out to his assigned duty: to prepare a C-17 Globemaster III for a training mission. 

As soon as he steps through the crew door into the belly of the C-17, he sets down his bag, takes a quick mental note of tasks that need to be completed and swings into action. Sergeant Green first double checks the AFTO 781 Series. A history of the aircraft' s servicing, condition, and discrepancies are noted in the forms. Crew chiefs constantly check and maintain these forms. Prior to departure, the maintenance launch team double checks the forms to ensure there are no write-ups that would impact the flight and the maintenance production superintendent has given his John Hancock. 

"It's always good to double-check just to make sure nothing was overlooked," Sergeant Green says as he scans the pages with his finger. 

After finishing looking over the forms, he replaces the book to its original spot and does a quick run through of the flight deck. After clambering down the stairs from the deck, Sergeant Green heads outside and performs a quick walk around the C-17. 

"When I walk around I check to make sure there is nothing loose, the plane is fueled, de-iced and make sure nothing else is attached or near the plane that shouldn't be," he said. 

A thick fog has been covering the flightline and runway since dawn on this particular day. The plane cannot go anywhere until the fog lifts. Sergeant Green makes good use of his time while the fog slowly burns off. He checks to see that the cargo is secure, looks for any foreign object debris on the cargo bay floor, makes sure anything else in the cargo bay is secure and stowed away properly, and lastly, he secures the pilots' luggage. 

Once Sergeant Green finishes securing things in the cargo bay, he checks on the pilots. They have run into an instrument glitch, they can't troubleshoot. A quick call summons a communication and navigation specialist. 

The distance measuring equipment is acting up. The DME indicates the current distance between the aircraft and a navigational aid station using the aircraft' s navigational radio systems. The aid stations are located throughout the world at airports and other locations to allow aircraft to safely navigate between locations. After checking and re-checking, the problem is pinpointed and fixed, the DME is running without a hitch. With no other problems hindering the crew, it's time to get this bird off the ground. 

"Every now and then we'll run into a minor glitch such as this," said Sergeant Green. "That's why we are here, to make sure these problems are identified and dealt with." 

Training missions can occur up to three times a day, at four hours per shift. Sometimes a crew chief sticks with one plane, other times they will end up switching between three or four C-17s, said Sergeant Green. "Sometimes (a crew chief ) gets out to the plane and it still has to be refueled and go through all the motions to prepare for take off. Other times it's all ready to go. There might be a couple of minor glitches, but nothing too major." 

The dense fog finally gives way to adequate visibility; enough to fire up the engines in preparation for take off. Crew chiefs conduct fire watches to ensure the engines start without any problems. The crew chief stands in front of the engine that will be starting. Each of the four on the C-17 is started one at a time to ensure safety. The crew chief stands by with a large fire extinguisher meant for putting out large engine fires before they get out of hand. 

Once the engines are alive, Sergeant Green moves the fire extinguisher safely out of the way of the C-17. He then grabs a pair of bright orange batons to marshal the plane safely from its parking spot. When marshalling, crew chiefs make sure there are no obstructions impeding the path of the plane. When it is confirmed there is nothing in the way of the C-17, Sergeant Green holds up a baton to signal the pilots it is safe to head out. He then breaks into motion waving the batons with expertise to signal the pilots to begin moving the C-17 from its place of rest. 

As the flight deck windows move out of sight Sergeant Green quickly heads over to a large piece of equipment close by and ducks behind it. Soon the engines point his direction and the force of the back draft begins to send dirt and other small debris airborne toward him. After the forceful winds have past, he steps out from his makeshift shield and commences a FOD walk. 

"After the plane leaves I do a FOD walk to make sure there are no large pieces of debris like nuts, washers or gravel," said Sergeant Green. 

Once the C-17 has taken off, a de-icer needs to be filled with de-icing fluid. Sergeant Green drives the de-icing truck over to get refilled with de-icing fluid, which is a 50 to 50 mix of glycol (anti-freeze) and water. 

"These de-icers are used on the planes before take off in order to get all the ice off of essential parts," said Sergeant Green as he points at the basket where an Airman sits and operates the de-icer hose. "They can be used under some pretty extreme temperatures. All we really use them for here is to get a bit of the frost off of the fuselage since it really never gets extremely icy here." 

Once the de-icer is filled back up and stored, Sergeant Green hitches a ride back to the squadron to do some training on his computer before heading home. 

Today was a lighter work load compared to most 'regular' days, said Sergeant Green. A day in the life of a crew chief differs from day to day. Fortunately, this particular day was sunny and fairly warm in the afternoon after the morning fog lifted - a good day to be a crew chief.