JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
The 437th Airlift Wing flies one of the largest fleets of C-17s in the Air Force. To ensure these aircraft are ready to leave the ground, the wing needs expert maintainers led by crew chiefs. But, to ensure proper in-flight maintenance and continual support, Joint Base Charleston relies on special-duty Airmen known as flying crew chiefs.
The Flying Crew Chief Office is a minimum two-year special duty assignment for aircraft maintainers and crew chiefs. Airmen must acquire leadership approval to become a flying crew chief. Special duty packages must reflect personal, professional and technical potential to become a one-man aircraft maintenance package.
Technical Sgt. Johnathan Douglas, 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chief manager, said the Flying Crew Chief Office looks for top-notch maintainers to go into the special duty.
"We look for the most mature and competent maintainers for our program," said Douglas. "They have to be able to handle the job themselves. There is usually one flying crew chief assigned to maintain the aircraft per mission. Although we answer to the aircraft commander when in the air, we still have to be able to make the calls necessary to maintain the $290 million aircraft."
Flying crew chiefs attend a six-week course to learn skills from several aircraft maintenance career fields.
Staff Sgt. Kevin Sumlin, 437th AMXS flying crew chief, is a two-year veteran of the program after serving eight years as a ground crew chief. He said the two missions differ due to the requirements of the job.
"A ground crew chief expertly quarterbacks the ground maintenance," said Sumlin. "Quality specialized maintainers turn the wrenches. A flying crew chief has to combine all of those skills. They have to be a one-man maintenance package.
"It is also a faster pace. We are tagged to go on a training or real-world mission, such as a medical evacuation or combat response and don't have time to check with other people while performing our duties. Flying crew chiefs have to be the fastest, most efficient, tool to fix aircraft and move the mission along."
Douglas said they will usually spend a lot of time away from home station, flying an average of 60 missions per year.
Technical Sgt. Ed Abell, 437 AMXS flying crew chief, has been at Joint Base Charleston for one year. He said he enjoys following an aircraft into its mission.
"I love it," said Abell. "You get to see where you send the planes. Also, it's a lot more responsibility, so I get a lot of job satisfaction. It's very rewarding."
Flying crew chiefs at the 437th AMXS work for the Griffin Aircraft Mobility Unit and are assigned missions by flying crew chief managers.