News: A fistful of maintenance schedules
Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Tippets
NEW ORLEANS - Thanks to an attention to detail that would rival Stanley Kubrick at his most meticulous and a borderline obsessive compulsive adherence to maintenance schedules, the crew members of Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans keep their helicopters mission-ready through a constant cycle of up-keep.
In the life-saving business, you are only as good as the machines that carry you.
Lt. Richard Williams, assistant engineering officer at Air Station New Orleans, said one of the main priorities of the air station is keeping two helicopters ready to fly, 24/7, 365 days a year.
In 2013, the air station flew around 850 search-and-rescue hours. Even to the mechanically uninitiated, that seems like a staggering amount of flight hours, and an equally staggering amount of maintenance hours goes into ensuring those flights happen.
"Last year our guys put in about 4,900 scheduled labor hours to keep aircraft up to date on normal scheduled maintenance to make sure everything was operating properly," said Williams. "In addition to that, we had around 7,500 maintenance labor hours associated with fixing things that came back from flights that were broken."
For the average person, maintenance means an oil change every 3,000 miles. Yet the average person doesn't purposely drive their car into the most mechanically detrimental environment on a daily basis either.
Salt is the bane of maintenance aircrews Coast Guard wide.
"Corrosion is a big enemy to aviation in general," said Williams. "Our aircraft are designed to prevent it through several ways: we use corrosion resistant paint, we make sure we wash our aircraft after every flight, and we maintain certain requirements to make sure that the washes are as effective as possible. We stay proactive in regards to corrosion, that way our helicopters will stay an asset to the Coast Guard for a longer period of time."
Hearing the rotors roaring to sonic life, seeing the helicopter rising up from the landing strip and taking off into the sky, it really gets the old blood pumping. Goosebumps start prickling your skin. "The Ride of the Valkyries" starts playing on your mental playlist, and you stand in awe of these beautiful machines that are no respecters of gravity and are made for one purpose: the saving of human life.
"Maintenance is one of those things that isn't an option, it keeps our aircraft flying," said Williams. "Properly ran maintenance programs are what keep aircraft available to do the mission. Without that, you wouldn't have an asset to go out there and perform the great work that our pilots and crewman do with search and rescue."
So if you ever find the water up to your favorite neck, and you see an orange speck in the distance slowly take the shape of a Coast Guard helicopter, remember that every single day of the year, someone is doing something monotonous and routine and repetitive to ensure that helicopter is out there. It's a job that has to be done. It's a job that saves lives.