Photo Information

Cpl. Gustavo Salazar, right, a Boca Raton, Fla., native and Cpl. Quintinn McCullough, left, a San Diego native, both avionics technicians with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 "Warhorse," discuss what needs to be fixed on a CH-53E Super Stallion aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Dec. 1. Maintainers check, and double check each other's work, ensuring a safe flight.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Maintaining for lives; Warhorses ensure aircraft operate right for flight

4 Jan 2013 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

Aircraft navigate the skies above San Diego on an almost daily basis performing training missions, test flights and providing aerial support to Marine Corps ground units throughout California. Groups of Marines called maintainers are responsible for ensuring these flights can occur safely, and in a timely manner.

“Without the Marines who maintain and repair the aircraft, we would never be able to fly,” said Capt. Madeline Dougherty, the quality assurance officer and a CH-53E Super Stallion pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 “Warhorse.”

Maintainers, take care of and repair the Marine Corps’ aircraft to keep the 23-ton machine in the air, and the Marines inside as safe as possible.

“I have complete confidence in the efforts of our maintainers,” said Dougherty, Winchester Bay, Ore., native. “Even though the majority of the maintainers do not fly, they understand the importance of having aircraft ready to complete the mission.”

These missions can be anything from taking supplies to foreign lands in need of aid, or inserting Marines into a landing zone to fight America’s battles. The common denominator in this variety of missions is this: each aircraft requires up to 20 Marine maintainers working 30 hours for each hour of flight.

“The number of hours these maintainers perform to keep aircraft current is spread out (between) aircraft that are down, and aircraft that are performing the way they were made to,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Valentino, a maintenance controller with the Warhorses and a Juliet, Ill., native. “Some aircraft fly 30 to 40 hours a week, some fly that in one month. Trying to balance maintaining 15 (aircraft), the times they fly, and what inspections they need in order to fly can be pretty hectic. The Marines working on these aircraft focus on doing their jobs, and doing them well to keep Marines safe and performing essential missions around the clock.”

While ensuring every part of the aircraft functions before, after and during flight, Marine maintainers follow certain publications that document how each part should work on the aircraft.

“Every type of maintenance done on the aircraft must be done to a certain standard that is delineated in the maintenance publications,” said Dougherty. “Some examples of standards for major components are that each engine must produce a requisite amount of power given the ambient conditions. If it doesn't, we can't fly. Also, aircraft vibrations are measured at very specific places on the airframe and those must also be within limits.”

These regulations and procedures do change though, and these Marines receive newer, updated publications on how to work on the aircraft, explained Dougherty. However, they also know that short cuts cannot be taken and correctly perform maintenance.

Doing the job improperly could have disastrous consequences.

“Some of the crew chiefs flying in the back of the aircraft are maintainers, so we know what it’s like to take our lives into (our) own hands when working on these machines,” said Cpl. Troy Highfield, a collateral duty inspector and aerial observer with the Warhorses and a Lower Burrell, Penn., native. “The work that we do gets inspected, but when you’re in the air you’re kind of just putting your faith in the fact that no one was cutting corners. We inspect these aircraft daily to ensure they’re good to fly. I go through the cockpit to make sure the systems are working fine, while other shops work on their portions of the aircraft.”

Instead of fearing for their lives, pilots, crew chiefs and even ground Marines can trust in the simple fact that these Marine maintainers do the job right, 100 percent of the time.