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SAR maintenance keeps aircraft mission ready to save lives

By Lance Cpl. Kamran Sadaghiani | | July 21, 2005

Often times people take those they depend on for granted, not realizing the importance of their presence. Station Search and Rescue doesn't have this problem.

The efforts of SAR maintenance personnel is not something that goes unnoticed, said Capt. Bradley Walters, SAR HH-1N Huey pilot.

"They're an essential part of the team,” said Walters, an Arlington, Texas, native. “If we didn't have them, nothing would ever get done."

The maintainers — consisting of crew chiefs, flight line mechanics, airframe mechanics and avionics technicians — all work together to keep SAR aircraft ready.

Each member’s specialty is focused on a different facet of the aircraft. Crew chiefs, for example, have a general knowledge about most of the aircraft’s mechanics, which is helpful to pilots because they can provide knowledge if the aircraft experiences mechanical problems during flight, said Walters.

“It's like having a mechanic in your (car's) back seat when you're driving," Walters said.

Although a maintainer's job is rewarding, many of the tasks can be challenging, said Lance Cpl. Jonathan T. Hicks, SAR crew chief.

"A lot of the challenges out here are from the heat, which takes its toll on the aircraft,” said Hicks, a Mission Viejo, Calif., native. “One of the biggest issues I remember was that for a long time, one of our aircraft had a combining gearbox over-heating problem. When it got hot in the summer, we could only fly at night, if we were lucky. With proper maintenance, we eventually isolated the problem.”

Some of the helicopter components usually worked on are the rotor heads, engine, drive train, transmission and fuel cells, said Cpl. David A. Reese II, SAR helicopter mechanic, and Mansfield, Ohio, native.

Proper and frequent maintenance is a key factor to keeping the aircraft mishap free, said Hicks. To facilitate this, inspections and maintenance routines are done as frequently as possible.

"Every two-hundred flight hours, we take the aircraft in the hangar, strip it down and replace a lot of the rotating bolts that have a high load capacity on daily use,” Hicks said. “We'll replace them so they don't wear out and break when we fly.

"A lot of it is preventative maintenance," he said. "If something breaks in the middle of the night, and we have to get that aircraft up, they'll call us in the shop to fix it, because we have to have at least one aircraft.”

Because the SAR maintenance crew routinely inspects and upholds the aircraft, they experience a minimal number of problems, said Reese.

SAR depends on these mechanically healthy aircraft to make its rescues, said Hicks. 

"I know for a fact a life has been saved on each and every single one of these aircraft at one point of time because of the maintenance we do," Hicks said.

"Maintenance personnel make the SAR mission,” he added. “Without them we wouldn't be out there saving lives. Nothing happens without maintenance, I can't stress that enough. Pilots are great, crew chiefs are great, corpsmen are wonderful, but without maintainers, these aircraft will not fly."

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