Getting a military aircraft into the air is a tedious process.
Inspections must be done. Many of them. Last minute electrical issues must be fixed. Parts may need to be replaced. Weaponry and ammunition must be 100 percent functional and fully stocked.
This entire process needs to be done quickly, and the heavy responsibility falls on the shoulders of some of the youngest Marines in the Corps—the maintainers.
The maintainers are divided into four sections: Flightline, airframes, avionics and ordnance.
The four sections work together like a sleek machine, each in step with their responsibilities, moving fast and not missing a beat to get the birds back up in the air as fast as possible.
But even as one machine, each section maintains their own identity, like the separate cliques in high school.
Flightline are like the cool kids, the prima donnas. They are the “big wrench” mechanics and the only maintenance section that actually flies and shoots the weapons onboard the aircraft. They are even responsible for guiding the pilots into their landings. It’s understandable why they walk around like they own the hanger.
“I love my job,” said Cpl. Jimmy Nash, crew chief, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. HMLA-167 is at the Combat Center participating in Enhanced Mojave Viper, a predeployment exercise which prepares units for harsh conditions while deployed to Afghanistan. “It’s worth it to fly and shoot guns. I’m a crew chief. We are like back seat drivers.”
Airframes are the gear heads, the kids who spent more time in the metal and wood shop than socializing. They are responsible for the frame of the aircraft, fixing all the nicks and loose screws.
They are also responsible for the hydraulics. This section is always working, always has something to do.
Avionics are the reigning rulers of the nerd-dom, the smart kids. They repair the aircraft’s electrical systems and handle the high-tech onboard computers.
Ordnance is a group all their own. They are like the cool kids, but without the need to actually be cool. They are the loners, fully aware in their own superiority amongst the others. They deal with all the ammunition, weapons and bombs on the aircraft. They also bring a sense of humor to the flightline. When a pilot expels all the aircraft’s rounds before returning from an operation, the ordnance section performs their own personal victory jig — the “Winchester Dance.” It’s tradition, and one they take seriously.
But even adding a little harmless spice to their daily grind, the Marines turn serious when it comes to their pre-flight routine. The slightest mishap could prove fatal to the pilot and crew. Nothing can be overlooked.
“They are hard workers,” said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Riley, flight line division chief, HMLA-167. “They grind it out. Most of them give 100 percent every day.”