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    Test pilots of the 640th are final authority for flight

    Test pilots of the 640th are final authority for flight

    Photo By Sgt. Matthew Wright | Maintenance Test Pilot Chief Warrant Officer Bill Vanek of Bravo Company, 640th...... read more read more



    Story by Spc. Matthew Wright 

    40th Combat Aviation Brigade

    CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The maintenance test pilots of the 640th Aviation Support Battalion thoroughly check the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade’s helicopters after maintenance has been performed, ensuring that aircraft are airworthy and safe to fly in the skies of Iraq.

    “Our mantra is: It is broken,” said Chief Warrant Officer David Clark of Bravo Company, 640th ASB, and a native of Fresno, Calif. “We want it [the helicopter] to break on our flight, not on a real mission.”

    The 640th ASB from Los Alamitos, Calif., is a National Guard unit that falls under the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which is on a yearlong deployment in Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn.

    The 640th is tasked to support more than 200 helicopters in theater that belong to seven battalions in the CAB. Its test pilots work long hours, striving to ensure that the brigade’s helicopters will return to base safely after each mission.

    Chief Warrant Officer Bill Vanek, a Helena, Mont., native, experienced an engine failure while conducting a test flight during pre-mobilization training at Fort Hood, Texas. As he flew a UH-60 Black Hawk on the test flight, he pulled back on the throttle during a maximum power check on the engine, and suddenly the engine died. With quick thinking, he restarted the engine still in flight and was able to continue his mission. The experience is not common, but comes with the territory, he said.

    Flying test flights isn’t the only thing that the test pilots do. They get involved when maintenance or repairs being done on the aircraft are near complete. The test pilots review the repairs that the mechanics have made by following a step-by-step process.

    “We look at all the entries made by the mechanics,” said Chief Warrant Officer Andrew Gaudette from Bravo Company, 640th ASB, and a Canterberry, Conn., native. “We verify that TI’s [technical inspectors] have looked at all the work” and signed off on all of it, he explained.

    After that, the pilots inspect the helicopter before taking it up for a flight. “We do a preflight [check],” Gaudette said, “which is a lot more in-depth than an average pilot’s preflight.”

    A normal preflight check before a mission takes about 20 minutes, but for test pilots, they go over every section of the helicopter, inside and outside, for up to an hour or more.

    Once the preflight check is done, the test pilots perform engine and electrical systems checks and look for any possible malfunctions. They turn on and off the systems to ensure that they are working properly, Vanek said.

    Finally, when all the checks are done, the pilot takes the helicopter up for a flight. The pilots run through a detailed checklist while in flight, checking the rotors, the engines and the controls to make sure that the helicopter is performing up to standard.

    When a test pilot takes responsibility for any aircraft, the whole process of getting it through the test flight process can take some time. “From start to finish, if things are moving along relatively smoothly, it takes about two days,” said Gaudette.

    The test pilots are ensuring the readiness of each helicopter. “Maintenance test pilots are the ones who certify the airworthiness of each aircraft,” Clark said.

    The test pilots of the 640th explained that they always want to be as accurate in their work as possible. They do the paperwork and take the risks in the air so that the helicopter pilots of the 40th CAB can fly their missions with confidence that they are going to make it back to base safely.



    Date Taken: 05.17.2011
    Date Posted: 05.25.2011 04:24
    Story ID: 71020
    Location: CAMP TAJI, IQ 

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