Air Cav maintenance pilots help keep operations going
December 17, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Keeping a helicopter airworthy requires a vast knowledge of the systems and components that make up the aircraft.
Maintenance test pilots go through specialized training on a particular type of airframe to gain a thorough understanding of how that machine operates. A combination of their training and experiences make MTPs a valuable resource in any aviation unit.
"A warrant officer out of flight school is just an operational pilot," said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Shawn Marrin, from Lantana, Fla., the MTP section chief and UH-60 Black Hawk MTP for Company B, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.
"There are four tracks that a (flight) warrant officer will eventually be tracked on; there is the instructor pilot, there is the safety officer, a tactical operations officer and the maintenance test pilot," he added.
Marrin said the normal progression for an operational pilot that has been in a unit for a while is to find a track, either by the commanders needs or by their own desires.
"Usually they (MTPs) come from a background of maintenance - as an aircraft mechanic - and their specific goal, professionally, is to become a maintenance test pilot," said Marrin. "So they would let that be known to command and if the opportunity presents itself then hopefully they would get to go."
There are two components to the maintenance test pilot course; learning the systems and learning the MTP checklist.
"Knowing the checklist allows the MTP to run tests on different systems and verify whether the system passes or not," said Marrin. "If it does not pass then the MTP can fall back on the knowledge of the systems to quickly identify the fault and troubleshoot it to find a solution and fix the fault."
A MTP's experience can be used in many situations, said Marrin, which include finding solutions to a specific fault or conducting a general test flight on an aircraft once it has come out of phase maintenance.
"A general test flight is where we conduct a complete maintenance test flight checklist, doing all the checks possible for an airframe," said Marrin. "We do that after a phase because the aircraft is dissembled to a great extent and even if certain systems have not been touched, we still evaluate all of the checks to ensure that everything has passed before we send it off as airworthy."
"In most cases as a line pilot you will never do all the checks, so it is nice being a maintenance test pilot and being able to run through all of the aircraft checks on a general test flight," continued Marrin.
MTPs make an effort to share the learned knowledge through experience with each other to help understand the systems functions. Benefits of going to a fellow MTP for guidance can sometimes produce faster results than referring to the maintenance manual, said Marrin.
"Sometimes just the systems knowledge will give you the capability to identify the fault without going to the maintenance manual," said Marrin. "Sometimes the fault won't be in the manual so you have to rely on that systems knowledge and that is why we are taught about the systems in great detail."
The aircraft maintainers are able to fall back on the MTPs systems knowledge when an unforeseen maintenance issue arises.
"They (MTPs) are a book of knowledge ... they know a lot more than we do, generally speaking," said Spc. Casey Henson, from Dallas, a Black Hawk maintainer in Co. B, 615th.
"The MTPs make the final call once all the maintenance is complete," said Henson. "At the completion of a phase the aircraft will not return back to its company until they sign off on it."
As in most situations where knowledge and experience is depended upon, certain bragging rights come with being able to identify and fix aircraft issues.
Marrin loves his job because he gets to troubleshoot issues. He prides himself on finding the fault first - and being right.
"Sometimes it makes your head swell bigger I guess," he said.
"There is always a competitive camaraderie going on between the test pilots to see who can identify what the true problem is," added Marrin.
Even with the competition to display knowledge, all MTPs are working toward the same goal - maintaining the force to complete the mission.
"How well we do our jobs is how well we are able to identify if the systems are working well," said Marrin. "That ensures that when the line units get their aircraft they can have fault-free operations for an extended period of time."
"We want to have high operational readiness, and the better we do our job we can sustain a high operation rate," said Marrin.