MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. --
Having 900 feet to stop a 37,000 pound F/A-18 “Hornet” traveling more than 150 mph is a challenge, but it’s all in a day’s work for recovery Marines.
Expeditionary Airfield Systems Technicians, or “recovery” Marines maintain and repair five sets of Vietnam-era E-28 arresting gear used to stop planes on the flight line, and the hard work they put into the systems led to their systems’ yearly certification Dec. 2-4.
Emergency arresting gear consists of a steel cable and tape that lies across the runway and attached to two large reels. When pilots make emergency landings, a tail hook on the end of their plane catches the cable, which unwinds and slows the plane while allowing the pilots to maintain control.
Although the certification of the emergency arresting gear systems is annual, the Marines prepare for it and take care of the equipment year round.
“Every day that the airfield is open we check it,” said Sgt. Joseph Pacheco, a crew leader.
The daily equipment maintenance is necessary for the safety of the pilots and safe operations on the flight line, as the arresting gear can stop a plane in the event of an emergency landing or inclement weather.
“We get twice as much traffic as any other air station,” said Staff Sgt. Cecil Morris, the runway supervisor. “I’ve had weeks where we’ve had arrests every day.”
According to Morris, pilots have used the emergency arresting gear 37 times this calendar year, and six times since October. Due to its heavy use and constant maintenance, it’s important for the younger Marines to observe what the inspector looks for and checks during the inspection in order to enhance their overall knowledge of the gear, added Morris.
“They need to know what to look for on the gear,” said Morris. “We teach them to get ready for the next procedure and stay two steps ahead of him.”
The certification isn’t just a check of the basic working order of the gear. During the inspection, the inspector checks everything from the tightness of a bolt to the antifreeze levels and beyond.
“He gets into the nitty-gritty,” said Pacheco. “He checks everything.”
Although the three-day certification of the arresting gear was an important step in making sure the flight line is mission ready and prepared to deal with any emergency that might arise, the recovery Marines are on the job and prepared for anything whenever the flight line is open.