When a $200 million aircraft breaks down in a dangerous place like Afghanistan or Colombia, pilots just can't call "Triple A." But they can call on their flying crew chief who, as most aircrew members know, knows everything.
Flying crew chiefs are the mechanics of the sky, flying missions all over the world and a pilot's best friend.
"These guys have saved many, many missions," said Lt. Col. Jeffery Smith of the 300th Airlift Squadron and aircraft commander on this trip across the Pacific Ocean. "They make our job of flying the airplane much easier."
Flying crew chiefs are specially trained maintenance personnel who attend a six-week maintenance special operations course in addition to the hundreds of hours of training it takes to become seven-level maintainer.
"We have to know everything about the aircraft," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Graveline of the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron as he does his preflight walk-around inspection.
From fueling the aircraft and checking the oil, to troubleshooting a major system malfunction, these flying mechanics earn their stripes everyday. According to Smith, keeping the mission moving is critical to its success. With a trained maintainer on board small things might not become big problems.
When an FCC flies a mission, he or she has to take an enormous amount of publications with them. Thanks to today's digital technology, they are all contained in a laptop with hundreds of pages of diagrams, parts, instructions and more to keep the giant C-17 Globemaster III in the air.
In addition to the publications, they take an FCC toolbox containing things like specialized wrenches, tire pressure gauges and more.
"You never know what you will need when it comes to a fix," said Graveline.
In his trademark green flight suit, Graveline climbs under the wheel well to inspect the tires of the enormous aircraft. Carefully and methodically he covers every inch of the outside of the jet even taking note of rivets in the tail towering five stories above.
"We look for cracks, leaks and any sign of trouble," he said over the loud noise of the other jets on the busy ramp.
The cost savings of having a Flying Crew Chief could be staggering especially if they can, for example, fix something therefore making it unnecessary to send out an maintenance response team.
"These folks are specialists in many maintenance fields and save the day sometimes," said Smith. "They're even more important in places where there is no support."
Wherever the mission goes, the Flying Crew Chief goes with it making sure that the aircraft is safe and ready to fly 24 hours a day.
Article by Lt. Col. Bill Walsh, 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs