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Transient Alert handles visiting aircraft

Transient Alert Mechanic Glenn Larson, 72nd Operations Support Squadron, examines a T-38’s pitot tube, which measures airspeed, while Aircraft Servicer John Pszczola inspects the landing gear on the trainer. The aircraft arrived at Tinker on Aug. 15 from Sheppard AFB, Texas. (Air Force photo by Mike Ray)

Transient Alert Mechanic Glenn Larson, 72nd Operations Support Squadron, examines a T-38’s pitot tube, which measures airspeed, while Aircraft Servicer John Pszczola inspects the landing gear on the trainer. The aircraft arrived at Tinker on Aug. 15 from Sheppard AFB, Texas. (Air Force photo by Mike Ray)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Tinker AFB supports scores of E-3 AWACS Sentries, E-6 Mercurys, B-1 and B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers. The base also hosts myriad other types and models of aircraft from other domestic military units and other countries.

"Anybody who flies into Tinker, we handle," said Dave Kellam, a Quality Assurance Evaluator for the 72nd Operations Support Squadron commanded by Lt. Col. Kirk Deitrich. The other Transient Alert civil service QAE is Mike Ziara.

Transient Alert services aircraft of all types from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, the Air Force, the U.S. Coast Guard and NASA, as well as from other nations. Aircraft they service include helicopters as well as airplanes that range in size from C-5 cargo transports to vertical takeoff and landing Harriers and tiltrotor Ospreys, jet trainers and small, prop-driven airplanes.

Transient Alert's duties comprise three stages: arrival, through-flight, and departure.
After the control tower directs an aircraft to a successful landing, Transient Alert assigns a "follow me" truck that leads the aircraft to a parking spot.

"We park the aircraft, perform any jet engine shutdown procedures, and chock the wheels," Mr. Kellam said.

Next they debrief the pilot to determine what types of inspections the aircraft needs. For example, sometimes they take an oil sample from the engine for microscopic laboratory analysis to determine how much wear and tear the engine has sustained. Oil analysis is not necessary on every flight, Mr. Kellam emphasized.

In through-flight, Transient Alert personnel refuel the aircraft and check the oil level, tire pressure and condition, hydraulics and oxygen levels, and inspect the aircraft for leaks and loose connections.

A dozen contract employees are assigned to Transient Alert. Although all 12 of them are trained mechanics, "We just do the basics," Mr. Kellam said. Typically, if a major repair is needed, "We call the home unit and they'll send out a maintenance crew to do the work." If it's a tanker, a cargo transport or other large aircraft needing major repairs, the work might be done by mechanics in the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, he said.

Tinker's Transient Alert unit is on duty from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days each week, including holidays. At any given moment the unit has employees "on the ground," Mr. Kellam said, including one person assigned exclusively to maintain aircraft ground support equipment such as portable generators and light carts.

Largely because of Tinker's location in the central U.S. and its operational hours, "We are a prime base for weather evacuations" from hurricanes that lash the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast, Mr. Kellam said. Tinker once was a temporary refuge for 72 F-15Es from Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina, he recalled.

"We don't get many of those, but we're ready for them when they do occur."

Several years ago Tinker AFB averaged 370 visiting aircraft per month, but last year that number had declined by two-thirds, records reflect. Nevertheless, that still amounted to 110 to 120 visiting aircraft per month - three to four each day - on average.

The Transient Alert office occupied by Mr. Ziara and Mr. Kellam is on the second floor of Bldg. 240 and has windows on three sides, facing primarily the south-southeast. "It's the best office on this base," said Mr. Kellam, a retired Air Force pilot. "We have a great view of the runways and tarmacs, and the place is air-conditioned."