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News: 56th EHMU helo attains black-letter initial ER twice in one day

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56th EHMU helo attains black-letter initial ER twice in one day Tech. Sgt. Rob Hazelett

Airman 1st Class Andrew Willard, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron electronic warfare craftsmen assistant, helps conduct a 50-hour preventative maintenance inspection on aircraft 89-6205, an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 56th Expeditionary Helicopter Maintenance Unit at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, July 24, 2013. The helo achieved the coveted black-letter initial exceptional release July 23, 2013, for the first time in the unit since 2005. After the ER was signed, the HH-60 launched as part of a mission attributed to saving two lives later the same day. Aircraft 89-6205 happens to be the same aircraft that attained the status for the unit eight years ago.

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - Aircraft 89-6205, a 24-year old HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 56th Expeditionary Helicopter Maintenance Unit at Bagram Air Field, achieved the coveted black-letter initial exceptional release July 23, 2013. This is the first time the unit has achieved this since 2005. After the ER was signed, the HH-60 launched as part of a mission attributed to saving two lives later the same day.

Then, the helo returned to BAF and reached that status again on its next inspection.

“A black-letter initial exceptional release means there are zero discrepancies, zero maintenance actions that need to be done,” said 1st Lt. Steven Ortner, 56 EHMU officer in charge. “Zero inspections means the aircraft is 100 percent perfect. In layman's terms, it’s the equivalent to driving a new vehicle off of the car dealership lot.”

An ER is required after any discrepancy is discovered or corrected on the aircraft and is required to be signed prior to the aircraft take off. An aircraft maintenance Master Sergeant or higher can sign the exceptional release off as long as they have been placed on the special certification roster, Ortner said.

“In my 16 years as a maintenance officer, I have only seen a military aircraft achieve this feat on two occasions, and both were in garrison during periods of low flying,” said Lt. Col. Greg Lowe, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander. “To achieve this during combat operations is a testament to the professional maintainers of the 56th Expeditionary Helicopter Maintenance Unit and the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron.”

The aircraft’s four crew chiefs are deployed to Bagram Air Field from the 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. They acknowledge maintaining operational readiness is a challenge, much less achieving perfection.

The fleet of HH-60s from RAF Lakenheath have an average of 15-20 minor discrepancies at any one time. To get one aircraft that does not have any write-ups on it is a rare occurrence.

“We have to be aggressive when it comes to working on the aircraft to ensure that we can still maintain the alert posture because the combat environment is different from home station,” said Senior Airman David Stroup, 56 EHMU assistant dedicated crew chief for Aircraft 6205, a five-year crew chief who calls Lakeland, Fla., his hometown.

There are typically minor discrepancies that prevent the black letter initial ER from taking place. Aircraft discrepancies range from anything such as a chipped knob, worn bracket, or a more serious issue like a component or system that is in-operable, which will ground the aircraft, said Ortner, a native of Hoyoke, Colo.

The latest black-letter initial ER isn’t the first obtained during Master Sgt. Joel Ellis’s, 17-year Air Force career. He was the dedicated crew chief on aircraft 89-6205 while stationed at Keflavik Naval Air Station, Iceland, in 2005.

“During that year, two of our HH-60s obtained black-letter initials within a couple of months from each other. One of those was aircraft A6205,” said Ellis, 56 EHMU HH-60 lead production superintendent, and a native of Tucson, Ariz. “I understand the importance, dedication and teamwork that go into making this happen. It's great to be able to see this again eight years later on an aircraft I maintained and even better that I've signed the exceptional release to fly the helicopter on a point-of-injury alert mission.”

Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Sinnwell has been the dedicated crew chief on the helo during the last 10 months. He is an aerospace engine technician by Air Force specialty code; however, he has taken on the challenge of expanding his knowledge base of becoming a qualified crew chief and is currently assigned as one of the lead crew chiefs on aircraft 89-6205. He has been an engine technician on the EC-130H, C-130H and F-15E aircraft.

“As maintainers, our goal is to give the pilots and flight engineers a quality and reliable product,” said Sinnwell, 56 EHMU aerospace propulsion technician, and a native of Charles City, Iowa. “We're very proud of the black-letter exceptional release; it showcases the aggressive maintenance stance of our EHMU and the tremendous skills of our technicians.”

So far, aircraft 89-6205 has been attributed with five of the 13 total lives saved on during the two months the 56th has been in theater. Those numbers demonstrate the team effort that goes toward the maintenance on the aircraft.

The black letter initial ER remains until another discrepancy is discovered on the aircraft, which can happen during the next communications check, flight, or inspection.


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This work, 56th EHMU helo attains black-letter initial ER twice in one day, by TSgt Rob Hazelett, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:07.24.2013

Date Posted:07.25.2013 10:02

Location:BAGRAM AIR FIELD, AFGlobe

Hometown:RAF LAKENHEATH, SFK, GB

Hometown:CHARLES CITY, IA, US

Hometown:GLOBE, AZ, US

Hometown:HOLYOKE, CO, US

Hometown:LAKELAND, FL, US

Hometown:TUCSON, AZ, US

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