Reserve maintenance crew keeps engines running at NATO exercise

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Steve Lewis
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
With late spring temperatures just topping five degrees Celsius on the flightline here, it is not the climate 459th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Airmen are accustomed to working in this time of year back home.

But gusty winds, cold conditions and long hours did not faze the Air Force Reserve maintenance specialists who worked to ensure their KC-135 Stratotanker would fuel NATO forces during the 2011 Northern Viking (NV11) exercise, June 3-10 here.

In order to provide the 130,000 pounds of fuel to the Air National Guard and Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s participating in the exercise, the maintainers first had to form a team of Airmen who specialized in different areas of the KC-135. Those areas included hydraulics; electrical systems; avionics and communication and navigation systems.

Two crew chiefs also made up the team of specialists, whose responsibility was to inspect the aircraft for flight, service it if required and provide supervision.

"Crew chiefs are like general physicians, so if you feel sick, you go and see them. They'll discover issues and send you to a specialist to get you feeling better. So if there's something wrong on the aircraft, like a hydraulic issue, we'll call on a specialist to take a look," said Staff Sgt. Matt Gauvin, 459th AMXS crew chief.

Once the team was assembled before leaving their squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md., the Airmen hit the long road north. For the next six days, the crew ran through countless checklists and aircraft inspections enabling the KC-135 to be fully mission capable throughout the week.

"In order to prepare an aircraft for flight we do things like making sure the fuel load is right; check the position of the flaps; inspect oxygen levels and make sure everything is serviced correctly," said Master Sgt. Lionel Washington, 459th AMXS crew chief and exercise team leader. "We ultimately prepare the aircraft for the pilots to fly it."

Each time the KC-135 finished its missions throughout the exercise, the maintenance crew was there on the Iceland flightline to service the aircraft again, running through every checklist and inspection as they did before takeoff.

After one of the refueling missions, the maintainers discovered an issue with the Auxiliary Power Unit, which provides power to start the main engines and run various electrical systems. They also worked through issues like repairing the hydraulics that move the fuel boom arm and the autopilot system.

"We had to keep constant communication with our maintenance shops back home at Andrews in order a get a part that we needed. There was a lot of coordination that went into getting things moving and having the airplane fixed," Sergeant Washington said.

Maj. Scott Clark, 756th Air Refueling Squadron pilot and exercise detachment commander, said the biggest factors in an execution phase of an exercise like NV11 is having issues with the aircraft.

"It's imperative that you're armed with a highly experienced maintenance team that has the resources to handle any problem. Our maintainers were able to provide a 100% mission completion rate for the entire exercise and were instrumental to our overall success," he said.