News: Herc maintainers enable combat cargo
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION -- The C-130 Hercules has a unique tactical airlift capability allowing them to accomplish missions and land in locations typically not ideal for most aircraft. Due to the rough nature of the Hercules' mission, operators here depend on an experienced team of maintainers in the 746th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit to keep the aircraft serviceable.
"Our most important task is making sure we can accomplish the U.S. Air Forces Central Command air tasking order," said Maj. Ryan Webster, the 746th EAMU officer in charge.
The current Hercules maintenance team is a total force integration unit deployed from Peterson Air Force Base, CO. They inspect, service and prepare aircraft for the mission of the day as delegated by the ATO and ensure birds are mission capable by performing regular inspections and preventative and scheduled maintenance.
"C-130s are often tasked with up to five sorties per mission," said Senior Master Sgt. Brian McAmis, the 746th EAMU production superintendent. "In simple terms, our aircraft make multiple stops at remote locations on unimproved runways with zero maintainer's on-hand. For this reason, maintenance provides operations the best aircraft possible to ensure mission success."
Before each mission, the maintainers perform a pre-flight inspection inside and out of the aircraft to ensure all systems are working in accordance with the job guides. Pre-flight inspections are good for up to 72 hours prior to the aircraft's scheduled departure.
After the Herc returns from a mission, they perform what is called a through-flight inspection to make sure the aircraft is still "air worthy," explained Tech. Sgt. Daniel Belk, a 746th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief.
Basic pre-flight inspections are performed after the original 72-hour validity pre-flight window has passed.
"It is the most in-depth of the inspections," Belk said. "We open up the engine cowlings, inspect engine oil, check the serviceability of tires and landing gear and all of the internal and external systems."
Meticulous inspections ensure the operators are able to focus on their missions without the added stress of being concerned with the functionality of the aircraft.
"The processes we go through each day to maintain the aircraft allows us to give the aircrew the best possible product," Belk said. "We know the work we do on the C-130s support aircrews as they go out and do their missions, whether it's transporting cargo or personnel or performing aeromedical missions."
"If we don't do our job correctly, lives are at stake," he added. "Not just the lives of the aircrew, but also the lives of those who the Herc mission supports."
The 746th EAMU is also able to provide maintenance on C-130s en route to other locations in the U.S. Central Command area of operations and, as necessary, assist maintenance recovery teams for downed aircraft off station. Recently a maintenance crew here accompanied an aircraft battle damage recovery team in Afghanistan to recover parts from an inoperable C-130.
"We provide that type of support on a much less frequent basis, but it is within our capabilities to do so," Webster said.
Mission effectiveness rates are the number one metric used to quantify the quality of the product they provide, which is ultimately measured by how effective the operations squadron is when they go out and accomplish the ATO.
The last reported mission effectiveness rate for the unit was 99.7 percent, which speaks for itself, Belk said. It also says a lot about the relationship between the maintainers and the aircrews who work together to make the Herc mission here a success.
"Operations and maintenance leaders meet each week to ensure we are all performing on the same page," Webster said. "Communication must flow at every level to get the job done."
Like a classic car owner, they take immense 'pride in ownership,' keeping Hercs primed and prepped for missions.
"Our aircraft represent who we are and how we do business," said McAmis.
[Editor's note: This article is part two of a four part series highlighting the airmen essential to the C-130 Hercules' deployed mission here.]