Inside the Gates: Maintainers, the hidden force behind the flight
When it comes to fighter jets, it’s the pilots and their planes that get the most attention. But, there is a crew of dedicated airmen on the ground who work hard to keep those planes flying.
The moment a jet lands and rolls to a stop, there is a pit crew ready to meet it, day or night, rain or shine.
“We are operational 24 hours a day to make sure these aircraft are ready to go,” said 1st Lt. Joel Sanchez, Asst. Officer in Charge for the 67th Air Maintenance Unit.
They don’t all have technical backgrounds. Crew Chief A1C John Balderaz had a very different job before joining the Air Force.
“I was working at Starbucks for a couple years actually, so big hop from what I’m doing now,” he said. “The learning curve for me was definitely a lot bigger than most people.”
Balderaz is part of a team visiting Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson for training exercise Northern Edge. His F15 is normally cruising the skies over Kadena Air Base in Japan, but this month it’s part of the fight in the Interior.
“It’s really a love/hate relationship with this jet. When it comes down to it, these jets are made for air superiority. They are very old but they are very good at what they do,” said Balderaz.
Fellow crew member SSgt. Nicholas Pack is a lead engine specialist on the F15. He’s responsible for that signature roar.
“Just like the aircraft themselves, the motors have their own personalities,” said Pack. “Some run hotter, some run cooler, some break a lot more.”
He can usually tell what’s wrong just by knowing which engine is down and it’s not always an easy fix.
“If you’ve spent the past 10 hours or more in 20 degrees, trying to replace a part, to be able to hear that jet take off and just know that everything you did, ultimately, was worth it,” said Pack.
When a plane lands on the flight line with a problem, it’s up to the team to diagnose and solve it. Balderaz knows it has to be ready for takeoff at any moment.
“We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this aircraft, so when we actually do see it make it in the air and we see our names on these jets, it puts a very sweet taste in your mouth,” he said.
Every plane on the tarmac has a crew like theirs, made up of unsung heroes who keep their feet on the ground so others can reach for the sky.
“Without us, those pilots aren’t able to fly, so it’s okay if they get all the attention,” said Sanchez. “We just know that we’re back here, kicking ass and doing what we have to do.”
There are 131 maintainers visiting JBER from Kadena with the squadron of F15s. Northern Edge wraps up Friday, May 12.
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