By Sgt. Travis Zielinski, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsAugust 25, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - AH-64D Apache attack helicopter pilots are usually the ones that get all the glory in an attack aviation unit.
But, behind the curtains are the maintainers that make flying the aircraft possible.
Long hours are spent doing preventive maintenance, finding small problems before they become major issues that could cause harm to the pilot and damage to the airframe.
To keep the aircraft in top shape, major inspections are scheduled at regular flight-hour intervals.
The crew chiefs of Company A, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, conducted one such inspection to ensure standards and safety.
"A 125-hour is an aircraft inspection where we take off the four main rotor blades and the lead lag links to inspect and check to make sure they are within tolerance, to make sure the components aren't bad," said Sgt. Russell Neal, from Lexington, Ky., an Apache crew chief in Co. A.
Lead lag links are components that keep the main rotor blades attached to the main rotor head by a system of bearings, pins and bolts.
Removing the blades and lead lag links exposes areas that are not normally seen, so this opportunity is taken to clean and inspect any components that we would not normally have access to, said Neal.
"We have TIs (technical inspectors) that actually come out and do an inspection on the Teflon bearings on the lead lag links," Said Neal. "They also check out the blades to make sure they are not de-bonding."
Technical inspectors ensure the quality of work being done on the aircraft, perform specific inspections that will be recorded and kept on a six month archive. TIs are also custodians of all documentation proving the air worthiness of the each aircraft in the unit.
"Once the lead lag links are off, a TI will measure the diameter of the bearings and if they exceed a certain tolerance that component will get replaced," Said Staff Sgt. James Ignacio, from Mangilao, Guam, a TI in Company D, 4-227th.
"We also look at the over-all job and make sure the crew chiefs are doing their inspections properly and we also enforce safety," he said.
These are flight critical components and they need to be inspected at regular intervals to ensure the aircraft remains flight worthy, said Ignacio.
The amount of work that gets completed while the aircraft is down for inspection is limited only by the crew chiefs' experience combined with their ability to work smart.
"While the aircraft is grounded for the inspection we take advantage of this time to fix other issues with the aircraft. For instance, tonight we are replacing one of the CPG (co-pilot gunner) windshields," said Neal. "We are also having a couple repairs being done to some of the aircraft panels."
More muscle equals more work completed, thus many crew chiefs chip in and do their part.
"We have seven Soldiers working on this tonight and then including the next shift we should have it finished within the next 24 hours," said Neal.
Once the aircraft is put back together and has been looked over by a TI, a maintenance test pilot will come out and perform a main rotor track and balance, then take the aircraft for a test flight, said Neal.
Maintenance test pilots, or MTPs, go through extra training in trouble shooting procedures and theory of operations on the specific airframe they fly. Following all major maintenance procedures certain maintenance operational checks need to be performed by these MTPs.
"The crew chiefs go out and take care of the inspections and put the aircraft back together, we (MTPs) are that last line of defense. We check everything out and then fly it before it is issued back out for the regular aircrews to fly," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jack Bibbee, from Woodbridge, Va., an Apache MTP in Co. A.
The crew chiefs, T.I.s and MTPs come together as a team to ensure that the quality of aircraft maintenance is to the highest standard so regular pilots can support the ground troops throughout MND - B.