June 7, 2012

Harrier Airframers provide structure for attack squadrons

Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Desert Warrior Staff
Photo by Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison
Cpl. Michael Doss, below the wing, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 airframes mechanic and a native of San Diego, Calif., helps his fellow maintainers perform maintenance on one of the squadron’s AV-8B Harriers. Airframers cover responsibilities ranging from structural integrity to hydraulics issues.

There are more than 500 panels covering the AV-8B Harrier. That’s more than 500 reasons to exercise utmost prudence when performing maintenance on the aircraft, more than 500 chances for a mistake to send mission safety spiraling downward.

Airframes mechanics ensure those mistakes don’t occur.

“We’re the body shop in the world of aircraft,” said Sgt. Billy Garner, a Marine Attack Squadron 513 airframes mechanic and a native of Denton, N.C.

The armor sheathing the decades-old Harrier? The hands of an airframe mechanic have been all over it.

The responsibilities of any airframes division comprise mostly of the external components of the Harrier. This includes phase maintenance, where all the panels come off the Harrier, and corrosion control, whereupon the mechanics wash the jet to minimize damage from the elements.

Phase maintenance is of particular importance to a squadron; this allows the other maintenance sections to reach areas where they need to be. Like the other maintenance sections, airframers use publications when troubleshooting a problem in their area.

“If you mess up anything, and you don’t follow the publications . . . you get your qualifications taken away,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler Garrison, a VMA-513 airframes mechanic and a Kansas City, Mo., native.

Airframes mechanics are also charged with the Harrier’s hydraulics system, which powers the aircraft’s flight controls and landing gear.

“Without airframes, the aircraft wouldn’t be able to fly,” added Garner. “It would just be a chassis with a motor.”

“Swinging with the Wing” is a Corps-wide joke that explains the difference between life in the Air Wing and that of other echelon commands. For airframes mechanic, it’s a reality.

Wing pulls, or wing swings, are used to remove the wings of the Harrier in order to extract the engine or allow other maintainers to get at the motor, explained Garner.

Maintainers as a whole put in wild amounts of hours to ensure the jet takes off and the new mechanics, technicians and pilots can all get their qualifications in their areas. With such a cyclical lifestyle, it can be easy to lose track of why so many hours are needed to go into training.

Airframes mechanics who have an Afghanistan deployment under their belt agree supporting Marines directly from a combat zone gave them a greater appreciation for their job.

“I went aviation because that’s what supports the troops on the ground,” said Garner. “Their lives are in our hands. Our actions can alter the flow of their mission and ours.”

“Back here (in Yuma), it’s training,” added Garrison. “Out there, they’re using it, doing the Marine Corps work you signed up to do.”

For now, it’s well over 100 degrees in any squadron’s hangar, and the sweat from the airframers are mingling with the storied hull of the Harrier. But there’s still work to be done.

“Next time you see it fly, you’re like ‘Wow, I just did that’,” said Garrison.

It’s a feeling of self-satisfaction that goes with watching any Harrier take off.

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