By SPC Ryan HallockJune 6, 2011
YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. " Had Tom Cruise portrayed a mechanic in Top Gun instead of a pilot, things might be different for the observation helicopter mechanics of Cajun Troop, 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment. But it’s not the glory that these crew chiefs work hard for behind the scenes; it’s to ensure the pilots are safe each and every time their OH-58D Kiowa helicopters lift off.
In preparation for the pilots’ annual gunnery qualifications, the crew chiefs manned the flight line to provide helicopter maintenance at Yakima Training Center during May.
“When a bird is going to fly that day, we come out and take fuel samples, wash the wind screens, and check for anything out of place,” said Pvt. 1st Class Frank De La Cruz, crew chief, C Troop, 4-6 ACS. “We check all the fluids and make sure they’re all topped off.”
Once the crew chiefs have performed all the necessary maintenance on their helicopters, technical inspectors will inspect everything they have done, from changing a panel to replacing a bolt.
“On this aircraft there’s no room for mistakes,” said Spc. Shane Michael Angerer, crew chief, C Troop, 4-6 ACS. “Everything we do is very important on this job to make sure it’s 100 percent right.”
With the demands of this high-pressure military occupational specialty, it takes time for crew chiefs to be assigned their own aircraft. The new troops have to prove themselves to the unit and work their way to getting their name on the side of a bird.
“You’ve got to be able to build that trust with everyone,” said Spc. Nathaniel Prentice, crew chief, C Troop, 4-6 ACS. “I trust all the guys I work with 100 percent.”
To ensure his Soldiers have performed their maintenance to standard, Sgt. Ryan Kennedy, platoon sergeant, C Troop, 4-6 ACS, uses his experience as a crew chief to guide them and assist them in troubleshooting.
“Sometimes you’ll have vibrations in the aircraft and you’ve got to figure out exactly what’s causing it,” said Kennedy.
The crew chiefs work hands-on with the pilots every day to prepare their helicopters for qualification.
“We’re one family pretty much,” said Spc. Zachary Downing, crew chief, 4-6 ACS.
The constant interaction between them has built a family oriented platoon, where the pressures of the job are lessened by trust.
“Their safety is definitely our number one priority and they put a lot of trust in us,” said Kennedy. “We really only got one time to make sure it’s right.”
The crew chiefs of C Troop enjoy the rewards of the job despite the pressures of maintaining the Kiowas and ensuring they’re safe.
For Downing, the best part is, “The satisfaction of knowing these guys are safe when they fly.”