KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (March 19, 2011) - Though air crews may seem to be the most important human element in any aviation brigade, they could not fly without equipment working properly.
Aircraft electricians within the avionics shop are often forgotten about, but their job is just as essential to the mission as the crew chiefs and the pilots.
"Our job makes or breaks the mission," said Sgt. Timothy Darrah, an avionic maintenance Non-Commissioned Officer with Company B., 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. "Something as small as the electronic connector can mean an aircraft doing missions, or it being passed up. Our job is vital to ensure that all crewmembers can complete their missions effectively and arrive home safely."
The avionics shop fixes all electrical parts of the aircraft through two different levels of phase maintenance inspections.
"PMI one we conduct after 200 hours of flight time, and PMI two we conduct after 400 hours of flight time," said Spc. Chad Hill, an aircraft electrician specialist with Co. B., 563rd ASB. "In these phases, we test all of the flight systems, such as the P-dot static, which helps the pilots be aware of their air speed and altitude; the radar altimeter, which helps them know how high they are off the ground; and the automatic flight control system, which helps the pilot fly, and it sends information from the control sticks through sub-systems to the rotor heads."
The avionics shop handles phase maintenance for all of the Blackhawk and Chinook model helicopters within the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade. But the aircraft electricians don't just conduct scheduled PMIs, they also conduct unscheduled maintenance.
"If there is anything wrong electrically with the aircraft, we are all over the problem," said Hill. "Whether it is replacing a part or splicing wires, we take care of the issue to allow the mission to go on and support our brothers on the ground."
"We use a lot of high-tech and sophisticated equipment to help us fix and pinpoint certain faults on the aircraft," said Hill. "We have to be extremely proficient at what we do because the pilots and crew chiefs depend on the navigational instrument systems and components to be in top-notch operational order for them to succeed in their mission."
To provide proficiency at all times, the avionics shop works 24-hours-a-day,seven days a week.
"We work in two shifts, a day and night shift, so that the birds stay up and running and mission capable."
Pilots depend on the avionic shop to perform the proper maintenance on their electrical systems in order to do their mission.
"The avionics shop is essential to us communicating with the ground forces,"said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Derek Skinner, an aviation safety officer and CH-47 Chinook pilot with Company B., 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. "Without communication with the ground forces, we are unable to effectively support them and their needs."
Just as the pilots are passionate about the support roles they play, as are the avionics specialists.
"I've always loved aviation," said Sgt. Badley Verzwyvelt, an avionics platoon aircraft electrician flight line leader with Co. B, 563rd ASB. "Since I was a toddler, I always dreamed of being an airline pilot. That's what I wanted to do - fly. When I joined the Army, I was too old to become a warrant, so I decided to be in the aviation side of things and fix them. Now that I have been doing this for sometime, I know that if it were not for us, the infantry wouldn't be able to have the transportation in and out of missions."