BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Protecting Colorado’s people by fighting wildfires and performing search-and-rescue missions is a vital part of the Colorado National Guard.
The missions performed wouldn’t be possible without the Colorado Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility. The shop ensures pilots and crew who fly those missions have aircraft ready to go at any moment.
“We’ve got an excellent team out here. They work really hard. They always meet mission requirements,” said Maj. Chris Moore, COARNG AASF maintenance officer.
The team of about 60 personnel is responsible for a fleet of approximately 25 aircraft, which includes CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, UH-72 Lakotas and a C-26 Metroliner.
Although there are wildfires and search-and-rescue missions, these don’t take away from other day-to-day requirements. During high-operations tempo, it can sometimes be a challenge to keep up with so many mission requests, according to Moore.
Other requirements include support to law enforcement, reconnaissance of natural disasters, VIP transport missions, hay drops for stranded livestock and whatever else the governor may request.
“We’re at the governor’s disposal,” said Moore, “(and) heavily used by the state as an aerial platform.”
According to Spc. Levi Davis, of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, the state heavily relied on the AASF during the 2012 Colorado wildfires. The support facility often had three “birds” out each day, requiring the maintenance crew to perform 12 to 14 hour shifts.
Davis said the nature of the maintenance the soldiers performed was new to him. Maintainers looked for issues such as smoke clogging the engines, conducted burn inspections because sometimes the helicopters got too close to the fires, and had to paint parts of the helicopters orange to increase their visibility while navigating through smoke.
“Doing the inspection for (the) fires, making sure they could go do (the) mission was satisfying,” Davis said.
Soldiers like Davis made the quick turn of aircraft to fight the fires possible.
“I love working on aircraft — just being around aviation, being able to fly with them from time to time,” Davis said. “Aviation (is) something I’ve been really enthralled with since I was a kid.”
Aside from being mission ready for natural disasters such as fires, the soldiers perform routine maintenance after all flights, 90-day corrosion inspections and major maintenance events.
During corrosion inspections, maintainers look for new rust that might be eating away at the airframe.
An example of a major maintenance event would be replacing the servo, the helicopter’s power steering unit. With two experienced maintainers, Davis said it might only take a few hours; replacing one solo or training someone to replace one could be an all-day project.
Davis said it’s important these inspections are done thoroughly so the aircraft can return to their mission-ready status as soon as possible.