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NEWS | July 25, 2011

Team Charleston departs for Rodeo on a black letter aircraft

By Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

When competing against the best, you want the best crew and the best equipment possible.

As Team Charleston's Rodeo 2011 team gathered for a short departure ceremony in Nose Dock One at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base, June 22, a C-17 Globemaster III sat on the flight line, waiting to fly the team to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., for the start of the competition. The two-year old aircraft was in outstanding condition. So good in fact, it carried a "black letter initial" signifying zero discrepancies.

The occasional air traveler probably assumes the commercial aircraft they board are maintained in perfect running order. Likewise, taxpayers expect their military aircraft to be in perfect running order, ready to respond to conflicts wherever and whenever needed. So why is it so difficult to earn a black letter initial?

"Imagine how many thousands of parts there are on an aircraft like a C-17 and you can begin to understand how difficult it is to obtain perfection," Master Sgt. Terrence Spradley, Team Charleston Rodeo Maintenance Team Chief said. A 20-year veteran, Spradley had the honor of signing his first black letter initial on the discrepancy form.

Discrepancies can range from something as minor as worn anti-skid tape to more serious issues that can ground an aircraft. A discrepancy can even be something as small as a nick in the fuselage larger than one 37 thousandth of an inch.

"We wanted this aircraft to be perfect for rodeo," Spradley said. "The crew for this team worked many long days to achieve this goal."

Speaking to the assembled crowed at the departure ceremony, Lt. Col. Brady Caldwell, Team Charleston Rodeo Team chief said, "This black letter initial is the first one I've ever seen in 15 years of flying. That's pretty impressive."

Using a 2009 aircraft might be seen as stacking the deck in the competition. It stands to reason that a newer aircraft would be in better material condition than a 10-year old aircraft. But in today's operational tempo, all military's aircraft are flying long hours and require intensive maintenance by Airmen around the world to keep them flying.

"It is nice to have a newer aircraft to work on," Spradley said. "But even a new aircraft presents its own challenges. One of the very last items we had to repair was a piece of impact tape on the landing gear. This is a new feature to protect the gear in rough terrains and the older C-17s don't have it. Luckily, we were able to find some within the Maintenance Group, make the repair and put that last check in the box."

The crew assembled to work on Charleston's Rodeo C-17 was hand-picked from different units within the 437th Airlift Wing. One senior airman, Sean Javery from the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was one of the few airmen on the team that had actually seen a black letter initial before.

"Actually, I've seen two, but they were on a different type of aircraft and there was a dedicated crew assigned to each plane," Javery said. "Here, we came together as a team from different units and worked towards a common goal. I'm pretty proud of this."

Team member Senior Airman Michael Purcell from the 437 AMXS said, "It's real satisfying to meet this goal. It's a little disappointing to do all this work and not be able to go to the big show, but only so many people can go. It's like practicing with the team all year and not being able to go to the Super Bowl. But, the guys staying behind know that we are sending the best from both the 437AW and the 315 AW and they will represent us well."