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MacDill's flight crews backed by flying maintenance teams

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
photo by Nick Stubbs
Senior Airman Thomas Sylvester inspects a KC-135, working against a checklist that ensures these planes are flight ready and safe.

How great would it be every time you travel if a personal mechanic were at your side, keeping your vehicle in top shape and ready to wield a wrench if something breaks?

KC-135 crews at MacDill know that feeling well and on many a mission the pros from the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron have made the difference between success and failure.

The Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is tuned to preparing planes for missions and handling the day-to-day and routine maintenance and the major repairs that keeps them on pace. Compared to the heavier maintenance responsibilities of the squad, the flying maintenance teams are more like a pit crew in a car race compared to the garage crew that handles major repairs and projects.

A lot of the job is very routine, but it's a routine upon which lives depend, said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Clayborn, a flightline expeditor with the squadron.

"It's lives you're dealing with and you can't replace lives," said Sergeant Clayborn. "You can't explain to a 5-year-old child or a wife when you do things halfway and someone isn't coming home."

The sobering message is not lost on anyone in the squadron, said Sergeant Clayborn, who added that his crews have the authority to ground any plane believed to be unfit for flight.

"A lot depends on what it is (that's wrong with a plane) but a lot of things can be cause for not being able to fly," said Sergeant Clayborn.

Squad members operate from a check list of all mechanical and electronic systems. If the flight crew notes any problems, it is the job of the squad members to check any "write-ups" and make the required fixes. Sergeant Clayborn's job is to assign maintenance and inspection crews and make sure the manpower for the job is allocated. Squad members work around the clock on three shifts and have to be ready to fly on short notice.

Mission support crews are an important element of success, not to mention safety, he said. Oftentimes planes are going on extended trips to places where maintenance crews are not available. Equipped with the tools and spares they need for keeping the plane on schedule, the flying maintenance teams usually consist of three members - two crew chiefs and a specialist. The KC-135s that fly out of MacDill are loved for their toughness and reliability, but these aluminum senior citizens of the flying fleet are getting to be more and more a maintenance handful, said Sergeant Clayborn.

"We're talking about planes that are up to 50 years old," he said. "They were never meant to last that long."

Sometimes the job calls for creative thinking and improvisation. Sergeant Clayborn recalls being TDY with a KC-135 that ran into hydraulic problems in Japan. The maintenance crew quickly located a hydraulic line manufactured in Japan that met the specifications and installed it, putting the plane back on mission.

For Master Sgt. Joseph Maltese, a production supervisor with the squadron, the job is multifaceted but also boils down just a couple of key elements: attention to detail and integrity.

"You have to look for problems but sometimes they are not always on the surface so attention to fine details is essential," said Sergeant Maltese.

At the same time, inspectors must have the integrity to act upon even the slightest suspicion of a problem.

"A lot of times what we find means a lot of work that we'll have to do to fix the problem but that's OK," said Sergeant Maltese.

"Finding problems is our job and then doing what it takes to fix them."

  • April 30, 1907: Order to build the Titanic
  • January, 1912: 16 wooden lifeboats and four collapsables are fitted
  • April 2, 1912: Work is completed
  • April 10: Passengers board at Southhampton and depart at noon
  • April 10: To Cherbourg, France, then off to Queenstown, Ireland
  • April 11: Titanic leaves Queenstown for New York
  • April 13: Smooth sailing on calm seas
  • April 14: Iceberg warnings received
  • 11:30 p.m.: Iceberg sighted dead ahead; ship's hull ripped open
  • 11:50 p.m.: 14 feet of water fills front part of the hull




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