News: Spearhead maintainers come together as a team to save the day
Story by Sgt. Richard Wrigley
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHINDAND, Afghanistan -- The AH-64D Apache attack helicopter is an integral part in the battle with insurgent forces as it is the main form of close air support deployed in conjunction with coalition forces here in Afghanistan.
As the Taliban’s seasonal spring time offensive begins, it is often easy to forget about the mechanics behind the scenes who keep the Apache in the air. Yet when something does go wrong, everyone appreciates it when they come to the rescue.
This was shown to be true when maintainers from three different companies came together as one team to recover a grounded Apache at the remote Forward Operating Base Chaghcharan in western Afghanistan, April 12.
After receiving fuel at the Lithuanian run base, the Apache had been deemed unflyable due to a crack in one of the main rotor blades that was found during an inspection before its scheduled flight back to Forward Operating Base Shindand, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kyle Cutler, a native of Milford, Neb., a maintenance test pilot for Company C “Snake Eyes”, Task Force Spearhead, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
A Downed Aircraft Recovery Team was put together overnight to go out the next day and recover the aircraft, said Cutler.
“It was a concerted effort between the technical inspectors from D Company, TF Spearhead, the crew chiefs of C Company, TF Spearhead, and the crane operators from the Forward Logistics Element of the 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st ACB,” added Cutler.
Indeed, that concerted effort was required to ultimately make this unique mission a success.
“What they were doing out there was something that you normally don’t do on a DART mission,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Oberholtzer, a native of Lancaster, Pa., an Apache armament electrician assigned to D Company, TF Spearhead.
“Typically, at least in my experience, you don’t usually have this type of issue. Blades are pretty robust,” said Oberholzer. “They are made to be able to take rounds through them.”
Maintenance that is normally conducted during DART missions tends to be routine and quick for the most part, Oberholtzer added. Replacing a failed rotor blade on the other hand is time consuming and requires a lot of effort.
“Coordinating for a crane, getting all the required tools and personnel out there, it’s a challenge,” Oberholtzer continued, “but it went pretty smooth all things considered.”
Spc. Chintan Mahta, a native of Dallas, a crew chief for Company C, TF Spearhead, was one of the crew chiefs that helped change the rotor blade. This was the first time that he had the opportunity to take part in an actual DART mission.
“It was pretty awesome, I was excited about it,” said Mahta.
Unlike regular maintenance, this task was more complex since both time and resources were limited, added Mahta.
“You only have who and what you bring out there with you, which made the mission that much more challenging,” said Mahta.
Yet the mission was a success.
“[Despite] the challenges, everything pulled together, we got the aircraft out of there and got her home safely,” said Oberholtzer. “You can’t really ask for more.”
Cutler said the crew chiefs’ teamwork and sound maintenance ultimately saved the day.
“This was a testament to their proficiency,” said Cutler. “They’re some of the hardest working people who do the stuff they do behind the scenes. We ask a lot of the airframe, so we have to ask just as much if not more from our maintainers.”
“They’ve performed incredibly throughout the year they’ve been out here. Without their hard work and dedication we would not be successful,” he added. “They’re the true heroes in all this as far as I’m concerned.”