Pride in ownership: Reserve aircraft maintainers help keep McConnell's fleet flying
By 1st Lt. Zach Anderson, 931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs
/ Published October 30, 2012
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Senior Airman Michael Moore doesn't technically own an airplane. Moore, a crew chief assigned to the Air Force Reserve 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here, hasn't quite saved up the capital required to purchase a private jet. But if you ask, he will tell you he feels like he owns an entire aircraft fleet.
"When I'm off work and just out driving around town and I look up in the sky and see one of them flying, I know that's one of my jets," said Moore. "When I see them take off and fly, I know that I helped to make that happen."
Moore is a "knucklebuster," part of the team of maintainers here responsible for accomplishing the endless array of tasks required to keep McConnell's fleet of 50-plus-year-old KC-135 Stratotankers flying.
As a member of the 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, he spends the vast majority of his work day on the flightline, braving the elements and constantly checking to ensure the mission readiness of each jet. In fact, long before pilots and aircrew members climb the ladder to the cockpit, aircraft maintainers have been hard at work running extensive checklists to ensure the plane is ready for takeoff.
"We arrive at the jet an hour or two before the aircrew just to double check everything," said Staff Sgt. Carlton Creary, a crew chief assigned to the 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "We look the tires, the brakes, the hydraulics, the fuel, make sure the engines are serviced, that all the pressures look good--we double-check everything. When the aircrew comes out here and they run through the flight controls, we have to make sure that when they turn left that side is going to come up properly. We have to make sure the rudder is going to kick properly for them. It's our job to make sure everything on that jet is in working order before they get going."
Creary said the work doesn't end there. Aircraft maintainers are also responsible for inspecting and maintaining an aircraft when it returns from a mission as well.
"We clean it up and really do a detailed inspection," said Creary. "If it just came back from a deployment to the desert, we check to make sure there is no damage or erosion that might have happened because of the sand. We check the landing gears, the flight services, the wings and the ailerons. We look for structural and skin damage. We make sure the interior is good, that the floorboards are good and that nothing is missing. We basically take care of the plane so that it's ready to fly again."
That strict attention to detail is appreciated by the individuals who operate those aircraft at 30,000 feet above the earth's surface.
"When the aircraft is ready for flight, most of the internal systems are completely inaccessible to the crew," said Lt. Col. John Stansfield, a pilot assigned to the 931st Operations Support Squadron. "I can't take the plane apart piece by piece to inspect it before I fly. Therefore, the only way I have of knowing if the critical systems have been inspected and are ready to go is by looking at what has been signed off on in the maintenance records. When I accept an aircraft, I am betting my life and my crew's lives that what the maintenance book says has been done has in fact been done."
It's a responsibility aircraft maintainers don't take lightly.
"I have to make sure that the jet is ready every time," said Moore. "I'm sending my guys up there in that jet and for them to be safe, I have to make sure everything is in working order."
"It's a huge responsibility," said Creary. "You don't want to have something go wrong during the flight. You have to take pride in your work and accept the responsibility for the aircrew because ultimately, their lives are in our hands."
While it takes plenty of effort to keep the fleet flying, Creary said the KC-135 is an extremely durable and dependable aircraft, even at more than 50 years old.
"You would think as old as these planes are that we would have more issues to deal with," he said. "Every once in awhile we have one that requires a little bit more TLC, but for the most part these jets are very good and are extremely reliable."
Creary said that for the aircraft maintainers, it's a point of pride to ensure that McConnell's tankers always safely and successfully accomplish their mission. And he said no matter how many times he sees a KC-135 thunder down the runway and take flight, the sight never gets old.
"Sometimes we stop after we launch an aircraft and watch as it takes off from the flightline," he said. "There's a lot of pride there, to know that we did that. We made that happen. It's a good feeling."