Multi-ship maintenance

  • Published
  • By By Staff Sgt. Nathan Bright
  • 166th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
On Sunday, November 2, five C-130H aircraft started up. At noon, four taxied to the runway and took off headed to New Jersey to perform airdrop training. One held back as ground crew scrambled. Within an hour, a fifth C-130 went wheels up. A few hours later, all aircraft touched back down at the New Castle Air National Guard Base.

Mission accomplished.

Multi-ship formations, as these missions are called, test every section of the 166th Airlift Wing. The operations group has to assemble enough aircrew to fly each plane, the mission support group has to ensure everyone is on orders and getting paid, logistics has to ensure all the parts and equipment are available, the medical group has to make sure each aircrew member is cleared to fly.

And the entire maintenance group works to have the required aircraft take off. For November's mission that meant over 200 maintainers had a part to play.

"A week out we build a schedule to get the aircraft sequenced [keep in mind aircraft are still flying during the week leading up to the mission]. This is the 'how to provide' the required aircraft," said Col. Michael Castaldi, 166th maintenance group commander.

The 166th Maintenance Squadron has 170 Airmen. Their job is to "generate" aircraft, which means to have the plane ready to fly and hand it over to the crew chiefs in the 166th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. 

Multi-ship missions "give us the opportunity to demonstrate a maximum ability to generate aircraft," said Castaldi.

166th MXS specialists work in two flights. The 166th Component Maintenance Flight includes the avionics, hydraulics, electro-environmental, guidance and control, fuels, and propulsion shops. The 166th Equipment Maintenance Flight shops are isochronal (ISO), sheet metal, munitions, non-destructive inspection, repair and reclamation, and aerospace ground equipment.

The 50 crew chiefs in the 166th AMXS are assigned to specific aircraft and conduct pre-flight, during flight, and post flight inspections, fixing what they can as they catch it. It takes a minimum of six hours of inspections to get an aircraft ready between flights. This does not include any repairs that the inspection catches.

For both squadrons, pride is a big part. "These guys are mechanics. They are committed and they love these airplanes. They have leaders and supervisors who filter out the unimportant and keep the focus on what has to get done. The amount of stuff they have to do to get an aircraft ready is dizzying," said Castaldi.

When on the ground, a problem that the crew chief can't fix is called a "red ball." That's when a specialist from the MXS is called to diagnose and correct it.

So getting five planes inspected and repaired simultaneously takes team work and reaction, according to Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Gordon, the component maintenance flight superintendent, and Chief Master Sgt. Hank Rome, the superintendent of flight line for the 166th AMXS. "The faster we react to red balls, the faster the repair," Gordon explained.

"Demonstrating we can do it locally shows our currency and our competence. We are getting up-grade training and refining ability so we can do this when asked to at war," said Gordon. "Missions like this provide training which is a more realistic version of what Airmen will face when deployed. It involves every aspect of maintenance," from red ball to aircraft generation.

For the 166th MXG, success is "whether we can generate all aircraft we were tasked to generate. If a last minute problem arises, getting a specialist to fix it by take-off time or shortly thereafter--without getting anyone hurt--that is success," said Castaldi.

"If a five-ship was planned, four took off on time and one takes off an hour later, we are still successful because the spare worked," said Rome. Last minute mechanical issues arise on aircraft, but it is a test of planning and reaction to get it or another C-130 off the ground in a reasonable window.

Castaldi said that for maintainers, "There is a real sense of satisfaction of seeing aircraft take off. It's like watching your kid graduate high school. The sense of pride in getting aircraft airborne is huge."

A mission like Saturday's meant nearly every single Airman in the 166th MXG got to feel that pride.

"It is a concrete example of mission accomplishment," said Castaldi.