NEW ORLEANS - A thunderous whirring fills the atmosphere as powerful rotor blades slice into the air.
Crossing a body of water a predominant orange-and-white helicopter slows down descending into a hover as the propeller thrust gusts waves to form a halo on the surface.
In the disturbed water the helicopter and its crew find people stranded in a 40-foot fishing vessel. The crew works together with the aircraft to hoist the people one-by-one from the disabled vessel.
After saving the fishermen the helicopter and its crew head home to the safety of the hangar and rest and recover for another day.
This is one of the many scenarios the aircrews at Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans may face.
Whether it’s a search-and-rescue mission or training evolution, Coast Guard helicopters in New Orleans regularly come into contact with saltwater and fly in and out of the air station throughout the day performing a wide array of missions.
With an area of responsibility spanning from Texas to the western edge of Florida and averaging more than 320 search-and-rescue cases per year, they are known as the busiest search-and-rescue air station in the Coast Guard.
The helicopters used by the air station are all carefully watched and maintained by well-trained flight mechanics and electricians who troubleshoot and maintain them daily.
“We have 30-day inspections, 14-day inspections and seven-day inspections,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Josh Tjader, an aviation maintenance technician with Air Station New Orleans. “It is almost like detailing a car; we take a look at every detail and make sure everything is clean and functional.”
The inspections are all different checks and balances that are reviewed on a strict schedule.
“Biggest thing that we watch out for is corrosion. That is one of the biggest problems we have in aviation, since we fly and hover over salt water,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Tyree, an aviation maintenance technician with Air Station New Orleans. “Corrosion is a reality that there is an abundance of, if not properly cared for. That would be the major thing that we look out for on a day-to-day checks, it’s why we do our different inspections.”
Aviation maintenance technicians work the mechanical side while their avionics electrician technician counterparts work the electrical side. Together they work to ensure the aircraft is safe.
“AET responsibility is anything with wire in the aircraft; whether it’s your engine indicating system, fuel indicating system or anything that has a wire through it, we are responsible for,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Jacob Albert, an avionics electrical technician with Air Station New Orleans. “Many times we do much more of the troubleshooting, once we discover if it is due to a mechanical error, then we pass it over to our flight mechanics.”
Upon entering the air station hangar during most given days, there is an atmosphere that feels relaxed. An echo of music can be heard playing from the speakers hanging on the wall. Aviators can be seen working together on multiple helicopters at once.
“When we are working on the helicopters we have a bit of music and we conversate here and there. But at the same time, we are not relaxed in the sense that we do not accomplish what we are supposed to do,” said Tyree. “The inspections we do are meant to find corrosion and things that could potentially take down a helicopter; we don’t allow the interaction and the morale to take our focus away from that.”
Maintaining helicopters is a fast paced and demanding job which requires its workers to be flexible.
“Our biggest challenge is managing time, while other branches of the military are either a mechanic or part of an aircrew in the Coast Guard, we do both,” said Tjader. “You’ll be on duty trying to respond to a search and rescue but also be doing a seven-day inspection; you have to keep up with your aircrew and mechanic qualifications.”
Coast Guard aviation mechanics and electricians play an integral role as part of an air crew when pilots and rescue swimmers go on flights. They assist by operating the hoist and controlling the basket, backing up the pilots, placing the rescue swimmer in and out of the basket, performing all the standard radio calls and inspecting the helicopter upon landing.
“Being a flight mechanic is an incredible experience, it’s everything I could ever dream of and more. Going out, helping people, being able to work on the helicopters and being able to do something I enjoy,” said Tyree. “The satisfaction is immense.”
It is thanks to the hard work of Coast Guard flight mechanics and electricians that the well known orange helicopter can fly high or low but above all – safely – performing all the missions that make the Coast Guard known as the most proficient life-saving service there is.