By Airman First Class Nathan Dampf, 126th Public Affairs Office
/ Published June 18, 2013
Scott Air Force Base, Ill. -- The following story is part two of a feature article series spotlighting each of the Groups within the 126th Air Refueling Wing. Last Wingtips edition, Public Affairs spotlighted the Operations Group. This month, Public Affairs discusses the Group in charge of keeping the birds flying - the 126th Maintenance Group.
In the aviation maintenance field, there are scores given to planes after they land. A "Code 1" means the plane has landed with no problems. "Code 2" signifies the plane landed with problems, but is still flyable. And, "Code 3" means the plane landed with problems, and is not flyable.
In the last two years, the 126th Maintenance Squadron (126 MXS) has successfully maintained the 126th Air Refueling Wing's aircraft achieving a "Code 1" rating 92 percent of the time and "Code 2" six percent of the time, said Senior Master Sgt. Paul Roulaine, aircraft inspection and repair section supervisor in the
126 MXS. The remainder of the KC-135R maintainers, including active duty components, achieve "Code 1" 43 percent of the time.
This success record is a testimony to the training and service-oriented nature of the 126th Maintenance Group (126 MXG).
Chief Master Sgt. Samuel Scinta, the aircraft mechanic supervisor for the 126 MXS describes the Group as a customer service entity for the Operations Group.
"We are kind of a customer oriented occupation with the Operations Group being our main customer," said Scinta. "We provide mission-ready aircraft so our Operations Group can do their mission. It's our job to make sure we have sustainable maintenance activity that can provide 24/7 coverage to the Ops Group."
The 126 MXG, led by Col. Rick Keasey, consists of several components. With more than ten specific career fields and more than 130 Airmen and Officers within the Group, it is the second largest entity in the Wing.
Scinta says the maintenance field is a dangerous business. But, under the leadership of Keasey, command and senior noncommissioned officer's focus is stressed daily.
"Attention to detail is stressed all the time," said Staff Sgt. Nick Infanti, a guidance and control system specialist in the MXS. "There are probes in each tank. If we calibrate that wrong, the weights will be wrong. It could mess up the center of gravity. Every small input we do has a huge effect."
Infanti, a traditional Guardsman from St. Jacob, Ill., says the avionics field is a challenging career field. Before he enlisted 10 years ago, the technical training for the field was almost a year long. The staff sergeant says the first two and a half months of the training are simply learning basic electrical principles. Once the student Airmen grasp those principles, they learn the day-to-day tasks and procedures during another four months of training.
Once trained, Airmen will know how to maintain all of the instruments used by the pilots in the cockpit, instruments like air speed, altitude, oil temperature and others. Additionally, avionics maintainers must ensure all software upgrades have been completed.
While Infanti and his enlisted colleagues are tasked with taking care of fuel instruments, Senior Airman Amanda Eveld and the rest of the fuel systems team work on the fuel system itself.
"We troubleshoot, detect leaks, replace fuel components, perform inspections on those components and make sure everything is ready for the aircraft to run," said Eveld, a traditional Guardsman from St. Louis, Mo. "I get asked the most if I put fuel on the jet. We don't gas the jets up."
While fueling the jets is the responsibility of the 126th Logistics Readiness Squadron, fuel system maintainers are tasked with the care of the fuel cells.
If there are problems that Eveld and others find, the plane is grounded and the Wing is unable to fulfill its mission. To make sure the planes are still mission-ready, the fuels crew will inspect the leaks. But, before that can even be done, the crew must set-up the area, which is a stressful process that can take hours.
"People think, go fix the leak and put some sealer on it," said Master Sgt. Nick Fonti, a dual-status technician who also serves as both a fuel systems craftsman and the Maintenance Group First Sgt. "That's not it."
All equipment must be grounded. Power may or may not be able to be turned on. Eye wash stations and respirators must be inspected. Gloves and safety goggles must be worn. Forms have to be completed and sometimes entered into the computer systems. It can be an hours-long process, Eveld and Fonti said.
And, if not done correctly, the possibilities of injuries or fatalities significantly increase.
From inside to outside, all maintainers have the important job of inspecting for wear on the plane. But, Master Sgt. Peter McAndrews, non-destructive inspection shop supervisor, says his job is to find no cracks.
"We're different than any other part of maintenance," McAndrews said. "We do non-destructive inspection. We inspect the aircraft structure for cracks with minimal amount of disassembly. We want to keep things from breaking."
McAndrews says his job is to save the unit money by finding parts that may be replaced so the bigger component does not break. He noted a specific occurrence when the Wing was about to send a plane overseas. Through an oil analysis, McAndrews found a crack on an engine part. If it had not been found before the aircraft flew overseas, it could have damaged the engine even more, costing the military millions of dollars. But, due to McAndrews experience and know-how, the unit was able to replace the part before the overseas flight.
Crew Chiefs of the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
Once each of the maintainers has had their chance to inspect and, if necessary, make repairs the plane is inspected by the crew chiefs.
Having just received a plane back from Guam, the crew chiefs inspected parts of the plane during the May unit training assembly. But, when they are not inspecting the planes, command and senior NCOs keep maintenance personnel on their toes.
"We are always training," said Airman 1st Class Mark Lester, a traditional Guardsman from St. Charles, Mo. "Senior NCOs are always coming up with different tasks to keep the information fresh. That way, if we are deployed, we're prepared."
Lester explained the role of a crew chief as a little bit of everything. They inspect the aircraft, troubleshoot specific components and systems, and perform production supervisor, flight chief, aerospace repair and maintenance functions.
Maintenance Operations Flight
Lastly, just like every well-run shop, no operation would work smoothly without an office coordinator. In the Maintenance Operations Center, Tech. Sgt. Justin Compton and Staff Sgt. Michael Brewer serve as the liaisons between the 126 MXG command and the maintainers. Compton and Brewer serve as two controllers within the MOC. They keep track of the flying schedules, maintenance of the aircraft and more.
Before their career in the MOC, Brewer, of Godfrey, Ill., was a hydraulics specialist and Compton, of St. Charles, Mo., worked as a propulsion maintainer. With more than 23 years of maintenance experience, they use that knowledge to assist and provide information about the aircraft to the Operations Group or Wing command.
Every Airman who has graduated from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base knows something about attention to detail. The Maintenance Group is never allowed to let go of that concept. If they do, someone else's life is at stake. The maintainers of the 126 MXG literally hold the lives of the Illinois Air National Guard's pilots, crew members and passengers in their hands. The Airmen and Officers of the 126 ARW owe them a debt of gratitude for what they do and how they do it.