AL TAQADDUM, Iraq -- When Marines and sailors fly constant casualty evacuation missions in the War on Terrorism, the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters performing the task are pushed to their structural limits to get patients the medical care they need.
To keep the aircraft flying, the hydraulics and structure of the aircraft are maintained by the airframes section with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"Our main job is to maintain the hydraulics and skin of the aircraft," said Sgt. Adam L. Crampton, CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter airframe mechanic, HMM-268. "The airframe itself is made of a mixed combination of fiberglass and sheet metal. We inspect the helicopters and repair cracks, corrosion and bullet holes."
Due to the increased flight hours placed on the helicopters, the airframe mechanics work long shifts to maintain and repair the aircraft skin as well as the utility and flight control hydraulics systems.
In the United States, the Red Dragons flew 250 to 300 hours per month, but while deployed to Iraq, the CASEVAC missions have increased their flying hours to more than 1,000 per month.
"The extra flying time causes more torque on the airframes and over time, causes damage," said Crampton, a Saginaw, Mich., native. "The extra flight time can cause damage like worn rivets and other problems to the skin."
That's when the airframes mechanics go to work. Working 12-hour days, with a night and day shift, the Marines are able to repair the damage to the aircraft and, if needed, make the parts themselves.
"We do quite a bit of metal and fiberglass fabrication," said Crampton. "In the United States, we can send damaged pieces like structural ribs to a depot-level maintenance company, like Boeing, for repairs, but here we don't have time for that so we fabricate it."
The section is also responsible for corrosion control and conducts inspections every 28 days on all Red Dragon helicopters.
"Corrosion can become a problem and cause more work," said Cpl. Michael R. Chaney, CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter airframe mechanic, HMM-268. "If corrosion is found in a section of the aircraft skin, it has to be cut out and replaced."
As part of the skin of the aircraft, the paint is also a responsibility of the section. Each paint job on the helicopters must meet Department of Defense standards.
"Any time we replace or patch a section of the aircraft, we have to repaint the area," said Chaney, a Waco, Texas, native. "We take a lot of pride in our work and make sure it's done right."
Although the airframes section conducts inspections, crewmembers can also report airframe and hydraulic damage by filling out a Maintenance Action Form.
"Anytime air crewmembers find discrepancies with the airframes, they write up a MAF and it is placed into a file in the network," said Staff Sgt. Vance Baumer, CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter airframe mechanic, HMM-268. "Then we go in to see the work needed and can annotate the action taken."
Since the Red Dragons took over the CASEVAC mission from HMM-161 in February, the airframes section has put in 24,143 man-hours and completed 4,438 MAFs.
"In the United States we would normally sign off on about 300 MAFs per month," said Baumer, a Hooksett, N.H., native. "Out here, we do a lot more work, but it is necessary to maintain the helicopters and our squadron's mission."