Marines

Maintainers work 24/7 keeping MEU aircraft aloft

6 Feb 2007 | Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Rock

The mission of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit is to be the nations' on-call force ready to tackle any mission it is tasked within hours of notification. A large part of the ability of the 26th MEU to quickly respond can be traced directly to the organic role that aircraft hold inside of the MEU, which is the smallest of the Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs).But the sea environment that is ubiquitous during a deployment is no friend to an aircraft. Left alone, much of the Marine Corps' multimillion dollar, state-of-the-art aviation technology would become rusting paperweights leaking fluids onto the shiny Navy flight deck.Enter the aircraft maintenance technicians of the 26th MEU's Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron-264 (Rein.), who, because of the deployment, work countless hours to keep HMM-264 (Rein.) in the air.When the blades have stopped spinning and the engines are cooled, it is this small army of highly specialized Marines who ensure the birds will once again leave the flight deck.Marines from many different departments pitch in to keep the aircraft flying, said Gunnery Sgt. Richard J. Madore, Airframes Division Chief for HMM-264 (Rein.)."It takes a combined effort from many different departments to inspect and make sure all maintenance has been done," he said.Aircraft can be extremely labor-intensive to keep operational, said Sgt. Nathan W. Pence, an airframe and hydraulics technician with HMM-264 (Rein.).The maintenance requirements for Marine Corps aircraft can be truly staggering.According to Madore, maintenance time can be broken down into maintenance hours versus flight hours to get a rough estimate of how much time an aircraft spends getting worked on compared to flying.For example, CH-46E Sea Knights require 12 hours of maintenance time for every hour of flight time. A CH-53E Super Stallion requires up to 40 hours of maintenance time for every hour of flight. AH-1W Super Cobras: 6 to one. UH-1N Hueys: 10 to one. AV-8B Harrier IIs: 25-30 hours of maintenance time for every one hour of flight time.In order to keep up with those requirements, each day is divided into two 12-hour shifts, ensuring that 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, crews are at work repairing or inspecting aircraft to make sure each is ready for flight. The somewhat cramped conditions aboard ship can present challenges to the maintenance crews. The launch and recovery of aircraft and all associated activities on the ship's flight deck can make it a hazardous place to work, and maintenance crews must avoid those hazards while still doing their jobs."The danger level is increased, especially on the flight deck, where many things are going on at once," said Madore.With so much activity aboard the ship, coordination between Navy and Marine personnel is vital but can be tedious. Just getting an aircraft off the flight deck and into the hanger for maintenance can take multiple calls to different departments on the ship."There's a lot more checks and balances to do just to get to an aircraft to do work," said Madore.Getting access to the aircraft is definitely necessary, as the sea and its salty air are some of the biggest culprits in the increased maintenance the crews face during deployment.Corrosion is one of the biggest enemies aircraft maintenance crews must combat, said Lance Cpl. Christopher D. Parsons, an airframe technician from HMM-264 (Rein.)."We get a lot of corrosion work, especially at sea," said Parsons.Normally aircraft are inspected on a 56-day cycle, but due to the rigors of deployment and corrosive effects of the sea, that cycle is halved to every 28 days, said Madore."We have to do twice as many inspections as we do on land," said Parsons.Pence echoed Parsons lament about the corrosive sea air."We run inspections on every aircraft in cycles," he said. "Every aircraft, every week has some kind of corrosion prevention work done." In addition to battling corrosion, maintenance Marines constantly change out damaged components in machines that are made up of thousands of parts. A logistics chain gets replacement parts to the squadron on a regular basis and the Marines are quick to get the installation completed so the aircraft can be tested and resume flying. "Our ultimate goal is to keep the birds in the air," said Parsons.Madore praised the skills and work ethic of the maintenance Marines of HMM-264 (Rein.)."Everybody is doing an outstanding job," he said. "These guys are some of the best Marines and maintainers I've seen in a long time." The Marines of HMM-264 (Rein.), along with the Marines and sailors of the 26th MEU's Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team 2/2, and the Combat Logistics Element, Combat Logistics Battalion-26, are currently underway during a routine, scheduled deployment which departed Camp Lejeune, N.C., Jan. 6, 2007.For more information on the MEU, including news, videos, and contact information, please visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.
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