Friday, December 21, 2012

Air mobility maintainers keep the mission running

by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

12/21/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- A C-5A Galaxy from Memphis Air National Guard Base, Tenn., needed to refuel to continue its mission across the Pacific theater. The aircraft landed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, a base strategically positioned to be a good breaking point for military and commercial flights enroute. The temperature averaged 11 degrees below zero - too cold to snow even though there had been a thick layer on the ground for days. Ice continually formed across the ground and all transportation surfaces.

Very few would want to be outside in this weather.

Meeting the C-5 on the ground as it landed was a group of 732nd Air Mobility Squadron maintainers. They dressed in layers, and came prepared with heaters and other equipment. It's a fact; aircraft break down. In 11 degrees below zero, parts freeze in place. Despite these challenges, it's the 732nd AMS maintainers who make sure the C-5 takes off again to continue its journey.

"Our mission is to move airplanes in and out of the Pacific theater," said Tech. Sgt. David Roberts, 732nd AMS flight line expeditor. "Or even to the European theater if need be."
The maintainers are the real deal, working specifically to get the mobility job done.

"We are strictly real-world missions driven," he said. "Whatever comes through here is real world; it has to be moved."

The aircraft they move could be loaded with anything. It doesn't matter; the mission must continue on.

"This C-5A Galaxy didn't have cargo on it," he said. "It's assigned a mission to go home to pick up something and go somewhere else. That's why it comes through here; that's why we're here."

The pilots and crew actually operate the aircraft, but the mission couldn't continue without support when they land.

"We're strictly ground maintenance," he said. "We'll do whatever it takes to get that plane flying."

The 732nd AMS largely supports C-17 Globemaster IIIs, but their operational range also includes the C-5s, KC-10 Extenders, KC-135 Stratotankers, L-100s, DC-6s, 747s, 737s, 767s, business jets and any commercial planes that come through.

"Being an enroute facility, we don't have all the expertise as a main operating base would have," Roberts said. "Unless there's something we cannot do on a C-17 Globemaster or C-5, we'll work. If a plane needs a part, and we don't have it, then we'll source it out to other bases."

Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., are usually the two bases they get most of their parts from.

"Once the parts come in, we'll fix it," he said. "Hopefully the same day that it comes in and the air crew can take the airplane wherever it needs to go."

They also work with the 517th Airlift Squadron when they need additional resources, or borrow equipment from the C-130 Hercules.

"It's tough," the maintainer from Folkston, Ga., said. "I don't think I've ever been in an environment like this. Just this morning, we had seven heaters going on a C-17 Globemaster that was taking off, literally out on the flight line to make sure that nothing was leaking, that the engine would start just fine."

"We have H-1 [Ground Support] Heaters, with hoses connected to the heaters, and we usually put them right on the engines to keep the fuel and oil warm," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Jason Manning, aerospace maintenance craftsman for the 732nd AMS. "So the engines will start when they need to. If it's too cold, valves won't open, fuel doesn't flow well, oil's real gel-like. We try to warm up the jet as much as possible so it will leave."

For certain aircraft, like a C-17, the maintainers run the heaters four hours prior to the scheduled launch. For a C-5, they set up the heaters five hours prior to take-off.

"We go out there, we warm everything up so it's nice and warm and cozy," the staff sergeant from Lancaster, Calif., said, "ready to rock and roll. It's like stretching before you run."

"Once the planes are ready to go, we actually de-ice them, which takes all the snow and ice off so it's safe for flight," he said.

Between commercial and military planes, the unit maintains an average of five aircraft daily, or 150 missions a month. The missions include war efforts and business efforts, President of the United States support, distinguished visitor support, and supporting Eielson Air Force Base KC-10s transiting through JBER when they escort the F-22 Raptors to Guam and other remote locations. They also help the Army missions. Some impact the fight more than others, the maintainers said.

"I think we're strategically placed here for a reason," Roberts said. "I think JBER supports us more than we support them. Obviously we use their facilities. We go to the host wing's C-17 squadron if we need parts; we're just here strategically placed to hit the Pacific realm a lot quicker. So when planes need to come through, they don't have to air refuel as much. Instead of flying from, say, Charleston Air Force Base, [S.C.], all the way to Yokota, Japan, they can stop here, they can do what they need to. It's cheaper, we can gas them, and they can keep going."

Within the last month, the tenant unit had 102 C-5s come through.

"Our big motto is 'We're top cover,'" Manning said. "We can reach pretty much anywhere in the world in eight hours. You can reach from here to Germany in eight hours, if you go over the top."

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