NEWS | Feb. 26, 2016

Chinook Soldiers: maintaining warfighting capabilities, part 1 of 5

By Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling Colorado National Guard

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. –The end of a task should be the easy part, but with a red face and furrowed eyebrows, that is not the case for Army Sgt. Benjamin Stocker, Colorado Army National Guard, a CH-47 flight engineer and mechanic. The tension built up from the spring and the struggle to fit the washers in is growing.

Most would think a small spring would be an easy fix on such a large helicopter, but even the smallest of tasks takes focus and skill.

Weighing in at almost 27,000 pounds, with a rotor diameter of 60 feet and being able to carry 24,000 pounds the Boeing CH-47 Chinook is a multi-mission helicopter the U.S. Army uses as part of their aircraft fleet, and it needs a skilled crew who knows every detail and is always ready to go.

Those who maintain the aircraft are often not thought of when talking about an aircraft crew; however, maintainers play a vital role in keeping the birds in the sky.

An aircraft mechanic has a difficult and detailed job that involves focusing not only on the aircraft as a whole, but also the small areas. Chinook mechanics are trained to make sure every part of the helicopter is ready to go at all times.

"Every day is different in my job," said Stocker. "I maintain the aircraft, which includes all the inspections, which are kept in a log book to make sure they are done on time, every time."

The inspections of the Chinook determine what upcoming tasks the mechanic will be working on.

"The inspections come up periodically as either calendar inspections, such as having to wash my aircraft every 30 days or daily inspections," said Stocker. "After every flight the entire airframe has to be inspected."

On a Chinook, part of what keeps the blades in place is a droop-stop spring, which keeps the blade from falling too low. If the spring becomes worn out or is not properly installed, the blade could possibly droop to the point where it cuts directly through the helicopter.

"The repercussions of not completing a task or not doing it correctly could have the possibility of not only damaging the Chinook, but could also harm those working on the aircraft," said Stocker.

The droop-stop spring is an essential part of keeping the Chinook in flight and safe. The bolt that holds the spring in place has a very specific torque range of three degrees, so the mechanic has to be exact when tightening it. If the torque is not accurate then the spring cannot be secured and the helicopter will not safely function.

Between large tasks, such as replacing blades, and the small tasks of replacing nuts and bolts, not many people could do the job of a Chinook mechanic.

Stocker maintains not only the aircraft but also his relationship with the rest of the crew. The cohesive relationship of the whole crew creates consistently good products on the aircraft.

"We wouldn't be able to keep these birds in the air if it weren't for mechanics," said Stocker.

Stocker explained there are two mechanics assigned to each Chinook for routine inspections and cleaning. However, when in-depth maintenance is needed, such as removing all of the blades or even removing a transmission to be repaired, all of the mechanics come together as a team to attack the challenge. There is so much that goes into a spring that has two bolts, let alone the amount of time and effort needed to tear apart the whole aircraft.

If negative relationships between the crew occur, then the aircrafts maintenance could suffer.  The success of the crew directly impacts the success of the aircraft.

"Working so close with the other mechanics and crew members encourages a sense of camaraderie and high morale in the Chinook world," said Stocker. "It's very unique and I love it. I never want to leave the Chinook world."

The teamwork does not end after the work day is over. Deployments require the crew to be at the top of their game at all times. The relationships of a Chinook mechanic and the rest of the crew dictate the vibe for a deployment.

"Deployments are exciting but scary all at the same time," said Stocker. "(We're) always doing lots of missions."

If there is turmoil within the crew or they are distracted the missions they are involved in have the possibility of faltering.

"The crew is a big family," said Stocker. "One of the unique aspects of the Chinook world is they are required to fly with a flight engineer, an enlisted person, in the back. In the Black Hawks  and Lakotas, the pilots aren't required to have a crew chief in the back, so instead they can fly with two pilots. So we get along more because we have to. It's kind of cool to be so close with the pilots."

According to Boeing, "the Chinook's primary mission is transport of troops, artillery, equipment, and fuel."

The job of a Chinook mechanic is meticulous, yet broad. Taking care of a large and important military aircraft requires dedicated crew members with the attention to detail skillset to keep it running properly.

"Anybody can tear something apart, but it takes a mechanic to put it back together," said Stocker.          

Editor's Note: This article is part of a series featuring a CH-47 Chinook crew from the CW5 David R. Carter Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility on Buckley Air Force Base.