U.S. Army helicopter repairers and maintainers play a critical role in keeping aviation assets flying through routine upkeep and conducting on-the-spot repairs, keeping helicopters safe and ready to fly in hundreds of Army missions.
At Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, home to Kosovo Force’s Regional Command – East, the aircraft maintenance mission falls to the Soldiers of Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, Virginia National Guard. The Delta Co. Soldiers maintain and repair the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters flown by their battalion in support of the NATO mission in Kosovo.
Blackhawk helicopter mechanics are specifically trained to remove, repair and install complex assemblies such as engines, rotors, gearboxes, transmissions, mechanical flight controls and other components, ensuring aircraft are always safe and operational.
“Aircraft maintenance is important because people’s lives are in jeopardy and for the mission to be successful, the maintenance has to be on point, has to be done correctly, and has to be done to a certain standard,” said Sgt. 1st Class Wayne J. Abrams, a maintenance platoon sergeant with Delta Co.
To keep helicopters flying and flying safely, aircraft are put through regular maintenance based on the number of hours flown. Even if the helicopter is performing above standards, they still undergo routine checks and maintenance, the degree of which is determent by the cycle, or phase, they fall under based on the number of hours they have been operated.
“This is not like working on a normal vehicle,” Abrams said. Once the aircraft goes into its reset phase, “pretty much everything gets inspected, everything gets redone, rebuilt and then is pushed back out. And you pretty much do the same thing over again until that lifespan is up for that aircraft.”
Abrams said that with good maintenance and a good crew, an aircraft could last anywhere between 10,000 and 12,000 flight hours and even further in some cases. However, a dedicated, knowledgeable, and responsible maintenance crew is needed to ensure aircrews get the most out of their helicopters.
“It’s takes initiative, it takes integrity, it takes honesty, it takes direction, and it takes good leadership, to (maintain these aircraft),” he said.
“You have to be able to trust in your leaders; you have to be able to trust yourself to actually do the job properly.”
And while aircraft maintainers are exceptionally knowledgeable in their field, having undergone 15 weeks of advanced individual training followed by in-depth on-the-job instruction, even the most seasoned maintainers are still learning about their helicopters.
“With these aircraft, you’re never going to know everything,” Abrams said. “So, if you have a good leader, a good platoon sergeant, or a good section leader that’s been doing maintenance for a while, you can learn from them. And they don’t have all the answers either. But they will direct you in the right way.”
Even a seasoned mechanic like Abrams is still learning more about the helicopter he’s spent the last 20 years working on and maintaining.
“Every day, I still learn from my lower enlisted,” he said. “They can go to the book and find something that I didn’t even know about. I mean, with this aircraft, you will never know everything. It will take years and years to know everything.”
Even after 20 years, Abrams still enjoys working on the Blackhawk helicopter. But, even more, he enjoys teaching the next generation of Soldiers who will carry on as Blackhawk helicopter repairers.
“I love to see how they’re into it and how they love to work on it,” he said. “I love to see them take pride in their work, and that’s what does it for me.”
For more information on helicopter maintenance and National Guard UH-60 helicopter repairers, go to https://www.nationalguard.com/15t-uh-60-helicopter-repairer.