By Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith, 40 AEG Public Affairs
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM – Each day, B-1B Lancers from the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (working from the 40th Air Expeditionary Group) conduct long hours of in-theater air coverage in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In a recent one-week period, B-1s provided close air support to Coalition forces in contact with enemy forces more than 21 times. During the same period, B-1s also destroyed various Taliban extremists’ compounds with precision weapons. The current weapons tempo, the heaviest since the beginning of OEF in 2001, wouldn’t be possible without the behind-the-scenes Airmen who work to get loaded B-1s off the ground.
This is part one of a three-part feature highlighting the often overlooked ground efforts to get the bombs on target.
Crew chiefs assigned to the 40th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron are responsible for servicing, inspecting and repairing B-1B Lancers used to drop bombs in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Being in charge of most flightline repair items on a $283 million (1998 cost) aircraft that is saving lives in Afghanistan is no easy task, said Master Sgt. David McGeath, 40 EMXS B-1 Aircraft Section chief.
“We see the big picture,” said Tech. Sgt. Rodney Akers, 40 EMXS crew chief. “Everyone knows that we’re not just working on planes to fly training missions for the command; we’re maintaining planes that provide coverage and support for Coalition forces.”
Maintaining planes that are flying such heavy loads involves a thorough inspection before each departure and after every recovery. The crew chiefs are historically “the first to arrive and last to leave” the aircraft, according to Sergeant McGeath. Their job also involves being the customer service representative to the customer – the aircrews who fly the jets.
Non-maintainers might better understand the crew chief position by comparing a crew chief to a general auto mechanic. A customer will take a car to a general mechanic for a loud noise in the engine. The mechanic will work on the car to a certain point. However, this particular engine problem might take an engine specialist. At that point, the mechanic will call on and work with an engine specialist to fix the problem. Then, the mechanic gives the car back to the customer and explains the work that was done to it.
All of the B-1 maintainers at the 40th Air Expeditionary Group are deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Just like at home, dedicated crew chiefs are assigned to a particular jet, even though their particular jet at home might not be the same jet they are assigned to here.
The biggest benefit of being assigned to a specific aircraft is that the crew chief gets to know all the little knocks and pings that a particular B-1B might have.
“As a crew chief, you know everything you’re supposed to know about every B-1, but you really get to know the individual quirks of your plane,” said Sergeant McGeath. “It’s your airplane as opposed to being just an airplane.”
The work load is also greater at this forward-deployed location than it normally is at home station. Senior Airman Kevin Waxman, 40 EMXS crew chief, said the extra work is no problem.
“We’re doing the same kind of work, but at a faster pace,” said Airman Waxman. “At home everything we do is training to be ready to do the real thing: what we’re doing here.”
Capt. Andrew Hackleman, 40 EMXS Maintenance Operations officer, said B-1 crew chiefs are amongst the hardest-working people in the Air Force.
“The B-1 is a complicated and maintenance-intensive weapon system, and the crew chiefs work tirelessly, 24/7, keeping the jet safe and reliable for aircrew,” said Capt. Hackleman.
The crew chiefs appreciate their boss’s sentiments, but their love of the aircraft, their job and the efforts of the U.S. military is what drives many of them to get the job done right.
“If we didn’t put forth an effort, the aircraft wouldn’t fly,” said Sergeant Akers, who has been a crew chief for 15 years. “When every plane lands, everybody wants to rush out and get a pin (from a dropped bomb). Knowing that your efforts are saving lives is a great motivator. It’s cool.”
During the time they’ve been at the 40 AEG, crew chiefs have maintained a 76.3 percent mission capable rate, and they haven’t missed one of the more than 165 launches this rotation.
See also: parts two and three.