Photo Information

Lance Cpl. Derek A. Williams (left) and Lance Cpl. Philip Buttiens remove the engine of an RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, May 2. Both Marines are UAV mechanics with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Williams is a 20-year-old native of Watseka, Ill., and Buttiens is a 21-year-old New Town, Pa., native.

Photo by Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

VMU-2 mechs maintain unmanned aircraft

27 Nov 2007 | Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

Echoes of wrenches turning and metal scraping together sound throughout the hangar bay, as the mechanics pull the engine off of an RQ-2B Pioneer unmanned aerial vehicle at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, May 2.

The mechanics with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, are responsible for keeping their squadron's UAVs in first-class condition, so that the Pioneer can complete its own mission.

"Our main mission is to get the birds in the air and keep them flying, so that the ground units have live coverage and know what is in front of them," said Sgt. Daniel J. Bowman, unmanned aerial vehicle mechanic, VMU-2. "We work on all of the exterior parts of the aircraft and some of the interior. We do all of the work on the engine, the main landing gear, the tires and everything that you can see from the outside of the aircraft."

According to Cpl. Justin M. Fisher, unmanned aerial vehicle mechanic, VMU-2, the Pioneer is maintained after each flight.

"Every time it comes back, it has an (inspection)," the 21-year-old Gaylord, Mich., native said. "We recover it, fuel it and check everything on it. Sometimes it can have spark plugs that are only good for 15 hours, or fuel and air filters that are good for 30 hours. There's a lot of stuff to do to it."

Although its size differs a great deal from regular manned aircraft, the maintenance for the UAV follows the same guidelines of what needs to be checked and how often it needs to be maintained.

"It has the same procedures of maintenance as regular aircraft," said Bowman, a 26-year-old native of Joppa, Md. "It follows the same programs. All of the procedures, (inspections) and phase inspections, are the same on the Pioneer."

However, the better side of having a smaller aircraft for many of the maintenance Marines with VMU-2 is the fact that it has a lesser workload required to perform tasks identical to those carried out on the Pioneer's bigger brothers.

"They require less man hours than regular aircraft," said Bowman, a Fallston High School graduate. "Personally, I don't have the experience of working on a manned aircraft, but I know there are a lot more moving parts on a regular aircraft than the Pioneer and that creates more man hours."

For Bowman, working on the aircraft has its ups and downs, but is something other than what he expected coming into the field.

"It's unlike anything I've ever done before," he said. "Sometimes working on these aircraft has its days just like anything else, but it is definitely different."

According to Staff Sgt. Ronald L. Wolfe, internal operator, VMU-2, the maintainers are what sets the squadron apart from all of the rest.

"We have guys who work their rear ends off to get these aircraft ready to fly," the 27-year-old Carlisle, Pa., native said. "If something goes wrong with one, they are preparing the next one to get it rolled up right behind it. Without the maintainers and some of the other people in this unit, VMU-2 wouldn't be able to do anything that we do.

"I definitely have to hand it to those guys," the Carlisle Area High School graduate concluded. "They are what got us going in (two years ago) and what have kept us going ever since. It's definitely the maintainers."