Commentary

June 29, 2012

What we see but don’t understand

By Airman First Class Thomas A. Cruz
57th Operations Support Squadron

Being a first term Airmen and an air traffic control apprentice at Nellis AFB is no easy task. Even with over a hundred hours of training, it’s very easy to forget that the tiny aircraft targets seen on the radar screen are actually massive aircraft, each with more components and intricate parts then the entire room of equipment used to execute the air traffic control mission.

Behind every aircraft is a team of Airmen, NCOs, and SNCOs working diligently around the clock to ensure the success of preparing today’s Airmen for tomorrow’s wars. As air traffic controllers, we control the skies, but the Nellis AFB maintainers ensure that each aircraft controlled at Nellis is fully operational and mechanically fit to be in the air.

During a two-week period of stop training, other 3-level trainees and I were asked to sit in with our Chief Controller to discuss our assignment in lieu of training. We were informed that for the next few weeks, we would be temporarily assigned to different maintenance squadrons around the base to learn what exactly happens on the flight line and to gain a better perspective for the hard work these men and women do.

To be honest, I was not too enthused at the idea, assuming there was nothing I could learn to help me further my training to become a certified air traffic controller. Frankly I felt this would only hinder my progress. To my surprise, the in-depth look at the challenges and triumphs encountered by the Nellis maintainers has reframed by the perspective and added great pride in the observation of how maintenance is integral to my success as an air traffic controller.

I was assigned to the 757th AMX Squadron’s Strike Aircraft Maintenance Unit, where the F-15E is maintained. Each day reporting to the Flight Chief, I was tasked with shadowing certain positions from each crew. Some days I would follow the crew chiefs, other days the weapons team or the specialists.

The Specialists handle everything electrical where something as small as a single wire out of place can cancel an aircraft’s flight all together. The specialists have to know these aircraft from nose to tail like the backs of their hands.

The crew chiefs are assigned to maintain specific aircraft, which in some cases could be just one person to an F-15. They ensure that the aircraft are fueled up, oiled up and ready to fly.

Before an aircraft can leave the flight line, a very thorough inspection is done, usually lasting 15 to 30 minutes. Crew chiefs communicate with the pilots directly using a headset like a NASCAR pit crew, and prior to departure they use hand signals to instruct the pilots to leave the flight line for the runway.

The weapons team handled the fire power of each F-15, attaching large missiles and bombs to the aircraft, which made me very uneasy to be around them (for obvious reasons), prior to the aircraft departing for the runway. Weapons maintenance completes a final inspection on the aircraft’s weapons system to make certain the aircraft is prepared to “put warheads on foreheads.”

Every job the 757th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron performs ensures the safe operation of each aircraft, which in turn, allows air traffic controllers to provide safe, quality service once the aircraft breaks the surely bonds of earth.

My hat definitely goes off to these hardworking men and women, trying to fix, prepare and maintain these technically marvelous aircraft, which takes hours exposed to the unrelenting high-desert elements. Day in and day out, the 757th AMX  steps up to the plate and gets the job done in home run fashion.

I’ve gained a profound respect for all the Airmen that work the flight line and how their jobs are central to my success in air traffic control. Air traffic was made all the more real for me when I would see actual pilots jump into the aircraft that we control. Seeing everything first hand opened my eyes completely.

All in all, I am very thankful to have been able to experience what happens daily on the flight line. I would have never gotten a chance to get this close to the aircraft we control at Nellis AFB and in the Nevada Test and Training Range. If you ever have the opportunity to experience what I experienced, take it! Sometimes a different perspective is exactly what’s needed to understand how each career field in the Air Force connects together and work in unison to complete our day-to-day operations.




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