In the fixed-wing community, we rely on civilian contract maintenance. While one contractor may cover the aircraft, a second contractor may cover selected "backend" equipment, such as in the case of Special Electronic Mission Aircraft. The majority of contractors choose to use the Army's maintenance process as governed by DA PAM 738-751.

The bulk of contract maintenance personnel do an outstanding job, but they are human and can -- like all of us -- make mistakes or unintentionally fail to track, report or update a maintenance inspection status. Some subcontractors completing aircraft modifications, corrosion inspections or depot-level repairs/inspections also may not be familiar with Army's procedures, documentations and maintenance requirements.

My story relates to a mission where I was tasked to pick up an aircraft and return it to my home station. My expectation, as well as most crews picking up a new aircraft, was the aircraft would be test flown, all discrepancies completed and logbook and historical data scrubbed and ready for pickup before crews were sent from home station. On this occasion, I arrived as the aircraft was just released by the contractor directly to my care. I started reviewing the logbook and things just did not look right. As I was reading DA Forms 2408-13/-13-1/-13-2/-18, they did not reflect the true status of the aircraft or the visible faults I saw. I compared the logbook against the aircraft and noticed the right engine cowling and avionics bay door had been removed. However, there weren't any write-ups on DA Form 2408-13-1 or -13-2 documenting the work. Right away, I knew I was in for a long wait.

As my day progressed, I moved to the maintenance office and noticed a dry-erase board. This board had a list of faults for my aircraft. Some of the faults were crossed-out, but most were not. I started looking in my logbook to see if the crossed-out faults had been documented or addressed. I was shocked to discover they weren't listed on any of my aircraft maintenance forms. I discussed this matter with the contractor's technicians. I found out documentation by dry-erase board was a normal practice in the civilian world. I continued to work my way through the flight pack entries and found numerous red "X" entries that were signed off incorrectly. I also identified procedures that were completed on my aircraft that were never documented. I reviewed DA Form 2408-14-1 and saw the faults that were completed were never transferred to DA Form 2408-13-1 to be signed off. When I reached DA Form 2408-18, I hit a stopping point; more than five inspection items were never completed and the aircraft had already been overflown (flown beyond the number of hours allowed before receiving scheduled maintenance).

I knew then I wasn't leaving this contract maintenance facility with my aircraft anytime soon and decided to dive into the aircraft historical logbook. I do not have an official Army maintenance background and this review seemed daunting; but after my maintenance review, I found it to be necessary.

For two weeks, I stayed at the contract maintenance facility, working to correct the logbook, flight packs and historical logbook before I was recalled to my unit. Back at my home station, I continued to monitor the maintenance status of this aircraft and found out it would not be ready for another six weeks.

Civilian contract maintenance technicians are very professional and good at what they do. However, they probably haven't experienced the copious amount of forms and recordkeeping the Army uses. I did not know everything, but I used my experience as a pilot to ask the right questions so the experts could find the right answers.

Without well-trained quality assurance personnel, pilots must take responsibility for diving into the logbook(s) and flight packs to make sure the aircraft is ready and safe to fly. And that's not just when picking up an aircraft from depot maintenance, but every time they plan to fly. The rule is simple: Never fly an aircraft when you're not 100 percent comfortable about the maintenance it has received.

Page last updated Wed May 2nd, 2012 at 00:00