Maintainers keep the Bats flying

by Sgt. Jessica Quezada
MCAS, Iwakuni

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Aircraft maintenance crew members with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242 kept operations flowing after Exercise Valiant Shield 16 completes its first week at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Sept. 19, 2016.

During this U.S.-only, biennial field training exercise, F/A-18D Hornets flew in a plethora of missions that emphasize joint integration, interoperability and expeditionary readiness.

The task saturated flights conducted during this event makes the aircraft maintainers job’s extremely important, as they keep 24 hour operations flowing for the entire aircrew.

Some specific specialties of these Marines include;
* Airframes mechanics who maintain the airframe itself, flight controls, landing gear systems and the hydraulic systems.
* Communication navigation technicians who hold the technical knowledge and skill needed to maintain the navigation and communication systems on the aircraft.
* Ordnance technicians who maintain and repair the aircraft’s armament systems, which includes the Gatling gun, bombing and forward firing ordnance, as well as emergency countermeasure systems.
* Power plant aviation mechanic powerliners who are responsible for controlling aircraft movement during flight operations, inspecting and preparing aircraft for flight evolutions, and the upkeep and repair of aircraft’s fuel and propulsion systems.

All having a profound impact, these Marines must also handle the complexities of aging fighter jets in a hot, humid environment that is similar to their home base at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

“It’s no secret that the aircraft themselves are aged,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christopher Callen, maintenance control chief for VMFA(AW)-242. “And weather by far seems to be one of the more difficult constraints to overcome. Excessive rain, high humidity and high temperatures harshly impact the aircraft, the maintainers and the aircrew all around.”

Currently assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, with the Unit Deployment Program, VMFA(AW)-242 is exercising great effort to keep up with the high tempo of operations at Valiant Shield.

“With these types of events, the speed is faster in order to simulate an environment similar to that of combat,” said Callen. “Mission requirements can, and have changed to meet specific flight goals . . . In these instances, the impact on the maintenance department is often unforgiving, but the Marines hold true to the adage of doing more with less.”

Before take-off, Marines perform all pre-flight checks and maintenance, and all inspections and repairs following each mission. Although demanding, the tasks executed ensure their aircraft are safe and fully operational at all times.

“Safety is always a concern in this environment and as such, extra time is factored into when planning for each mission whether its maintenance or operations,” said Callen.

Working closely with the aircraft maintenance Marines are the actual aircrew who execute missions such as dissimilar air combat training, defensive counter-air operations and live fire exercises with other U.S. forces.

“I like working with the pilots,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Peters, a powerliner with VMFA(AW)-242. “It makes me feel important because their lives are in my hand when we are launching them out. We have a bunch of hand signals that are part of the communication we use and that’s us being in control. They have to listen to us because we have the control to tell the pilot to hold. I see it being unique too because I’m an E-3 telling an officer what to do, but it’s what you have to do.”

This close-knit relationship is atypical of most Marine Corps specialties, but is befitting as the trust and bond built among the commissioned pilots and enlisted maintainers helps exude a trustworthy atmosphere in a chaotic environment.

“The flights are always a team effort between the aircrew who have the flight experience and the the maintainers who have the knowledge about the interworking’s of the jets. It requires a high level of readiness and qualifications from all of the shops, which VMFA(AW)-242 is really good about,” said Marine Corps Capt. Adam Bueltel, F/A-18D Hornet pilot for VMFA(AW)-242. “When we go on large exercises like Valiant Shield it’s our opportunity to test our detachment interoperability and see how those building blocks from Iwakuni come together.”

Working cohesively as a team is essential, as the entirety of flight operations includes the communication between pilots and maintainers. Once inspections are performed and a Hornet is deemed “all clear,” the Marines respectfully shift their authority over to the pilots by rendering the proper salute.

“I see it as a courtesy, but it’s also saying ‘I’m handing off the control to you, it’s your jet now,’” said Peters.

As birds take off and land, aviation supply, avionics and ordnance departments also work closely with aircraft maintenance personnel as they provide logistical and operational support.

“It always starts with maintenance,” said Bueltel. “Whether its loading bombs at their distant area, or getting any other services or parts that they need is another logistical challenge, but they figure it out and we are full speed right now.”

Under the control of Marine Aircraft Group 12, the Bats traveled with other elements of MAG-12 from MCAS Iwakuni to Guam in order to develop their technical skills and enhance squadron efficiency.

Marines of VMFA(AW)-242 are continuing to work through the exercise with other U.S. forces, building interoperability within the squadron and facilitating clear lines of communication to foster a spirit of cooperation.

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