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Lance Cpl. Nicholas Levins, an F/A-18 aircraft mechanic with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 and an Issaquah, Wash., native, poses inside of an intake of an F/A-18 Hornet aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Oct. 25. Plane captains inspect the aircraft prior to the pilot coming out, conduct a walk through with the pilot, and a post-flight inspection once the aircraft returns.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Rebecca Eller

Plane captains: last line of defense

23 Nov 2012 | Lance Cpl. Rebecca Eller

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – “You’re standing behind the wing next to the engine and the engine is in full afterburner, and you’re just like ‘Go, go, go,’ and it’s sucking the life out of you. It’s shooting out like a 12 to 15-foot straight flame and it feels like it’s sucking you in,” said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Levins, an F/A-18 aircraft mechanic with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 and an Issaquah, Wash., native.   

Plane captain’s inspections are important because they are the last ones to send the pilot off. During a final check of flow, plane captains perform a final inspection on a moving F/A-18 Hornet before flight.            

Lance Cpl. Levins is a plane captain and inspects F/A-18 Hornets to ensure they are ready for flight. He inspects the aircraft prior to the pilot coming out, does a walk through with the pilot, and a post-flight inspection once the aircraft returns.           
“I love it,” said Levins. “This is exactly what I signed on for. It’s an epic adventure; no day is not an adrenaline rush.” 
 

Because of the magnitude of the job, plane captains must complete several qualifications. After taking the plane captain qualification test, they must stand before a board, including the executive officer, maintenance officer, pilots and the Marines officer in charge.            

“He’s getting a lot of quals. He’s not being stagnant,” said Cpl. Richard Morales, an F/A-18 aircraft mechanic with VMFA-323 and a Lake Topps, Wash., native.            

Usually when someone new checks-in to a squadron, they are like a deer in headlights, however, Levins was proactive, explained Morales.            

Levins says his motivation to learn came from his leadership in his shop. Levins was constantly quizzed on the aircraft, which inspired him to study to try to find something to teach his leaders.             

Plane captains perform inspections back-to-back every day, and in a typical job it could be easy to become complacent. However, a plane captain’s job is so crucial they must always pay attention to the details.            

“You definitely can’t get comfortable,” said Levins. “Once you’re on the flight deck, it’s game on. You have to give 110 percent.”           

Plane captains earn the privilege of having their name on the side of the aircraft along with the pilot, because they are the ones who put in 12-14 hours a day to get the aircraft ready for flight.            

“There is a reason why our name is on the aircraft besides the pilot,” said Morales “We are held responsible for the integrity of the aircraft.”

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