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'We're like a NASCAR pit crew
Senior Airman John Way, a crew chief with the 507th Maintenance Squadron says that crew chiefs are like a pit crew for NASCAR. They park and refuel the planes, change the tires, check the hydraulic fluids. He says his heart races whenever an aircraft takes off. (Air Force photo/Margo Wright)
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Crew chiefs the Air Force pit crew

Posted 9/25/2008   Updated 9/25/2008 Email story   Print story


by Brandice Armstrong
Tinker Public Affairs

9/25/2008 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.,  -- Crew chiefs are jacks-of-all-trades. They are to an aircraft what a pit crew is to a NASCAR automobile during a race. As Will Ferrell's character said in the 2006 comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, "If you ain't first, you're last."

Crew chiefs perform and oversee everyday maintenance to aircraft. They refuel aircraft, change tires and brakes, service engine oil and hydraulic fluid, and execute numerous inspections. They ensure an aircraft is safe and reliable.

"Crew chiefs are the heart and soul when it comes to safely and effectively maintaining millions of dollars worth of United States Air Force assets," said Master Sgt. Lisa Ortiz, 507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Sortie Generation Section chief for the KC-135R Stratotanker.

Hundreds of crew chiefs work at Tinker, maintaining KC-135s and E-3 Sentries. They work around the clock, in all types of weather.

"We make sure the mission gets done," said Staff Sgt Danny Auer, 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Aerospace Maintenance crew chief for Red Aircraft Maintenance Unit. He maintains E-3s during the mid-night shift Sunday through Thursdays. "We make sure the planes fly and that's the sole purpose of the Air Force." Senior Airman John Way, 507th AMXS crew chief, agreed.

"We are the backbone of the Air Force," said Airman Way, who works on KC-135s on the Monday through Friday day shift.

At the start of their respective shifts, the Airmen review aircraft forms, the maintenance information system, and review technical orders and job guides, before they work an aircraft. They also determine their maintenance priorities and divide the work between their peers.

With an open time-slot window of about eight hours, the Airmen get to work. If a problem proves to be beyond their realm of knowledge, crew chiefs assign a specialist to the area of trouble. Regardless of who does the actual work, a crew chief is responsible for the finished product.

"The job is really a test of skill with integrity," Sergeant Auer said. "You're the one signing your name to something, stating this plane is good to fly." But, at the end of the shift, Sergeant Auer said the job is worth it.

"It's a real sense of accomplishment," he said. "As soon as you see the aircraft take off, it's like 'Wow,' because of the work I did and the things I fixed, that aircraft is capable of flying."

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