News: Life of the line: A day in the life of a crew chief
by Senior Airman Clark Staehle
379th Air Expeditionary Wing
SOUTHWEST ASIA – The 379th Air Expeditionary Wing has one of the busiest flight lines in the Air Force and is home to more than 100 Air Force aircraft.
Each aircraft requires a small team of crew chiefs to help it get off the ground. Crew chiefs are responsible for all of an aircraft's day-to-day maintenance, including refueling, defueling, launch, recovery, hydraulics, brakes and tires.
"It's almost like day-to-day maintenance on your car, except a lot more in depth," said Staff Sgt. Wesley Hughston, 340th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) with the 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
Senior Airman Joe Smigielski, 746th Aircraft Maintenance Unit with the 379th EAMXS, said crew chiefs also troubleshoot any problems the plane lands with and fix minor discrepancies - anything from burnt-out lights to landing gear problems.
Crew chiefs also inspect the plane before and after every mission for cracks, loose rivets and bolts.
The 160-plus crew chiefs with the 340th AMU, which maintain the base's fleet of KC-135s, are organized into teams of three. These teams are typically comprised of two five-level Airmen and a seven-level Airman to supervise.
"I'll keep the team I have now the entire time I'm here," Hughston said, a Talladega, Ala., native. "We all know exactly what we're doing and we can rely on each other. We're used to each other."
The 340th AMU, which includes Airmen from almost every stateside KC-135 base, doesn't deploy in regular rotations. Their deployments can vary from 60 to almost 180 days. Because of this, many of the crew chiefs end up deploying together over and over again.
"I was pretty much mentored by every staff sergeant and technical sergeant out there," said Hughston, who has deployed seven times.
Life as a crew chief is a bit different at the 746th AMU, which also falls under the 379th EAMXS. Everyone in the 746th AMU is deployed from the 7th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.
"Here, you work with (Airmen) a lot more and you get to know them a lot better," Smigielski said. "It really is a like a big family here because you're with the same people all deployment. You build friendships out here that you might not back home."
The crew chiefs work two shifts: day shift from midnight to noon and the night shift, from noon to midnight. Both Hughston and Smigielski work days. The maintainers are kept busy throughout their shifts.
"We'll come to work, check out tools, find out what we have to do for the day," Hughston said, who is deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. "We'll have a jet come in and they call on a team and we'll just grab our gear and go."
It takes between two and five hours for a team with the 340th AMU to make a jet airworthy, depending on how long they have to wait for fuel and aircraft ground equipment, and the time of day, which is affected by shift change. One team can usually turn around two or three jets in typical shift. Work orders on any given day are received from air tasking orders, which ultimately receive the information from air crews. The work orders are then passed down through the production superintendents to the crew chiefs.
Unlike crew chiefs with the 746th AMU, crew chiefs with the 340th AMU aren't assigned to a specific jet because there aren't enough of them to go around. After a team finishes one jet, they rotate back into the maintenance building where they are assigned another jet to work on.
Crew chiefs with the 746th AMU are assigned to a single aircraft, unlike crew chiefs with the 340th AMU. Some crew chiefs even fly with their plane, known as flying crew chiefs.
"When the planes go off station, you get to fly with the aircraft, and if there's a problem, you head up the maintenance," Smigielski said, a Jackson, Mich., native. "It means we know a little about all the systems in the plane."
From helping launch and receive aircraft to scheduling fuel and inspections, crew chiefs are an integral part of the Air Force's mission and help keep its aircraft flying daily.