Not your typical aircraft passengers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Maintenance Airmen have a strong reputation for spending long hours on the flightline, preparing aircraft to fly to carry out the Air Force mission.

It may surprise people to hear that some maintainers can spend more time in the air than the average pilot.

"First and foremost, we are crew chiefs," said Tech Sgt. Aaron Degnan, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chief program manager. "We travel with aircrew so that when they land, we can inspect their plane, refuel it, clean it and, of course, fix it if something breaks."

The FCCs at McConnell AFB can come from a variety of maintenance career fields, such as hydraulics, fuels, communication navigation, and guidance and control.

"Most crew chiefs and other maintainers don't get the opportunity to see first-hand what they are supporting," said Maj. Anthony Mariapain, 22nd Air Refueling Wing Flight Safety chief. "The FCCs are able to witness refueling, but also the breathtaking scenery that most aircrew experience on a regular basis that pictures just don't do justice."

Very few maintainers are selected to work as a FCC; they must qualify on numerous crew chief tasks and prove they are capable of handling the additional responsibilities.

"We only send people up that we can count on 100 percent to the best of their abilities," said Degnan. "As soon as that airplane hits the ground, the mission pretty much rests solely on the FCC to make sure everything is done safely by the book."

FCCs must keep their passport handy at all times because they are likely to use it frequently for temporary assignments. Jetlag is a part of their lifestyle.

"We are constantly getting calls saying, 'Hey, a mission just came up. We are sending you to 'X' base in two hours,'" said Degnan. "It's difficult to make plans. You can't always tell when you'll be back or when you're leaving."

They also play a critical role in supporting aero-medical evacuation missions, keeping aircraft in optimal flying condition when transporting patients to hospitals and making sure medical equipment is secured.

Most of their work requires the help of a wingman, which is why FCCs travel in groups of two or more. Usually an assistant crew chief will shadow and learn from a more experienced Airman, said Degnan.

Their flying status can also offer an opportunity to directly help build bridges between operators and maintainers.

"Not only do they witness the issues aircrew encounter on the road," said Mariapain, "but they also give their aircrew perspective on what is needed to ensure that the aircraft is good to go."

The additional responsibilities of an FCC can be a heavy burden, but according to Deganan, the job does have its perks.

"You get to see a lot of cool things that most people don't ever get to see," said Degnan. "Before you know it, you're in Spain, [Las] Vegas, Japan, or wherever. You work hard, play hard, follow the rules, do the job and make sure the jets are ready to go. In my personal opinion, it's the best job in the Air Force."