JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
As Airmen, we constantly see Air Force aircraft flying in the skies. It can be motivating to see the most powerful planes in the world taking off, even from afar. On February 28th, it was like I had courtside seats with backstage passes to flight line operations as I got the opportunity to shadow a crew chief.
Tech. Sgt. Darrell Walton, 15th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, was friendly as he greeted me in the lobby. We grabbed ear protection and walked out to the flight line, where the sun was shining bright during another beautiful Hawaiian day. A C-17 was set to take off in two hours at 9:30 a.m.
We stopped at a gated entrance to do a foreign object detection walk around our vehicle. I learned that the most important job of a crew chief is safety, because any FOD could get sucked into an engine and cause an airplane to crash. When we arrived at the C-17, he did a walk around the plane, checking everything from the pitot tube to the breaks on the wheels. I saw the door that pararescue jumpers leap out of and learned how Walton was “re-blued” after working on a mission with special forces. I heard stories of helicopters, tanks, troops, and even prisoners being transported on C-17 flights.
We went inside the plane and opened up the ramp, and I saw how the wheels can be used to load cargo and vehicles. I met the rest of the maintenance crew, the loadmaster and the pilots. We went to the top of the plane and I stuck my head out the latch. In the cockpit, I sat in the pilot seat and learned about the flying screen, buttons, and controls. The view was beautiful, as I gazed at the skyline of Waikiki.
During my time on the flight line, the team worked together to troubleshoot an issue with the aircraft and eventually were able to fix it. Ready for take off, Walton asked me if I wanted to marshal the aircraft. I never thought that I’d marshal a C-17 for takeoff, but there I was, standing on the flight line, directing a 174-foot plane that was coming toward me. I instructed the plane to turn at the appropriate time, and saluted the flag on the plane as it went past me. We watched the C-17 take to the skies. In that moment it was uplifting to experience all the amazing work that crew chiefs do.
I learned that a crew chief’s job is to be a jack of all trades and coordinate with different people who are technical experts in different areas. I realized there are some similarities between our jobs. I work in public affairs, so the closest thing to getting a jet to launch in my career field is doing a live broadcast of the Air Force Academy graduation. Both jobs have to be ready at a certain time, require a lot of coordination between people from different career fields, and can be stressful when technical difficulties occur.
I would highly recommend shadowing a crew chief if you get the opportunity. As I go back to my public affairs office, I have a greater appreciation for the teamwork that happens on the flight line. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Information will be sent out to 15th Wing organizations to sign up each quarter.