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JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – When a $200 million military aircraft breaks down in remote places like Afghanistan or Colombia, pilots can call on their flying crew chief, who, as most aircrew members are aware, knows everything.
Flying crew chiefs perform missions worldwide. They are the mechanics of the sky and a pilot's best friend.
"These guys have saved many, many missions," said Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffery Smith of the 300th Airlift Squadron. "They make our job of flying the airplane much easier."
Flying crew chiefs are specially trained maintenance personnel who attend a six-week maintenance special operations course in addition to the hundreds of hours of training it takes to become a premier aircraft maintainer.
"We have to know everything about the aircraft," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Graveline of the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
From fueling the aircraft and checking the oil, to troubleshooting a major system malfunction, these flying mechanics earn their stripes every day. According to Smith, keeping the mission moving is critical to its success and a trained maintainer prevents small things from becoming big problems.
When an aircraft maintainer flies a mission, he has to have access to an enormous amount of maintenance information. Thanks to today's digital technology, maintenance publications are contained in a laptop featuring hundreds of pages of diagrams, part descriptions and numbers, instructions and more to keep the giant C-17 Globemaster III in the air.
Maintainers also carry a toolbox containing things like specialized wrenches, tire pressure gauges and more.
"You never know what you will need when it comes to a fix," Graveline said.
In his trademark green flight suit, Graveline routinely climbs under the Globemaster to inspect its tires and undercarriage. Carefully and methodically he covers every inch of the outside of the jet -- even taking note of rivets in the tail towering five stories above.
"We look for cracks, leaks and any sign of trouble," he said.
"These folks are specialists in many maintenance fields and save the day sometimes," Smith said. "They're even more important in places where there is no support."
Wherever the mission, the flying crew chief goes with it to ensure that the aircraft is safe and ready to fly 24 hours-a-day.