The Alaska Air National Guard is known for its search and rescue efforts. Keeping Pave Hawk helicopters and HC-130J Combat King II's in the air is vital to saving lives whenever a call for help is placed. 

"Hikers, hunters, lots of lost hikers," Sr. MSgt Troy Freeman said. "People that crash in their planes. We're sent all over the place and it's important that these aircraft are ready to go."

It is here in the Alaska Air National Guard 176th Wing Propulsion Maintenance Shop where this crew keeps engines running in tip-top shape for the HC-130's and Pave Hawk helicopters. Both aircraft are used in search and rescue missions throughout the state and in the Lower 48. Without engines running efficiently, rescue missions can't get off the ground.

"You don't have to be deployed to the area of need to see what your work and how it has an impact on everybody out here," Sr. MSgt Freeman said. "I don't know the exact numbers but we've had several saves over the past couple months and its due to everyone doing their job, not just engines doing their job but these things can't fly without engines."

The engines are removed every 600 flight hours, taken apart, repaired if needed, cleaned and then put back on the aircraft.


"We'll troubleshoot, repair, replace, whatever we need to do," Sr. MSgt Freeman said. "As long as we can replace it on the wing we'll do that and if we can't, we'll pull the engine, replace the engine, bring it into the shop and tear it down for further maintenance." 

There are some components that the airmen can't just pull off and replace, like the power turbines on the HC-130J Combat King II's.

"Those require heavy maintenance in the shop," Sr. MSgt Freeman said. "When these land, they go into reverse. When they do that they can spray up a lot of dust and gravel."

The rocks can hammer away at the turbines and create what looks like bullet holes. 

"They will not fly it with certain damage," Airmen First Class Sean Russell said. "If they peel up which is called red X-ing, it red X's the aircraft which means you can't fly it until you repair it."

This Alaska Air National Guard crew knows a lot about engines. For example, in Alaska how it's best to rotate rescue aircraft to limit wear and tear on the engines.

"Because it's so cold here, they run a lot more efficient here than they do throughout most of the United States," Russell said. "Performance-wise they perform a lot higher. They put out more horsepower and torque compared to when they are used in the Lower 48 and around the sand."

Keeping these search and rescue aircraft maintained and in the air is vital, no matter where a repair is needed.

"I've done engine changes in Homer, in Fairbanks, we go out to the villages sometimes," Sr. MSgt Freeman said. "We'll go where ever we need to. We take our job very seriously. These aircraft can't go out and save lives if they don't have the engines. We're very proud of all the work we do."

It's because of these airmen maintaining these engines that so many lives are saved.

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