Wednesday, December 3, 2008

KC-130J Crew serves in Afghanistan

Story by: Lance Cpl. Monty Burton

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Behind the cockpit of a KC-130J cargo transport aircraft there is a crew of Marines tasked with ensuring the operation of the aircraft, safety of its passengers and the overall success of its mission in Afghanistan.

The men and women of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Tasks Force – Afghanistan’s air combat element ensure their aircraft are ready to accomplish the mission regardless of what it may be.

KC-130J crew chiefs begin their day at the crack of dawn. They ensure the aircraft is properly equipped and prepared to carry out its mission. Crew chiefs do everything from troubleshooting the plane for any malfunctions to taxiing the aircraft down the runway.
Sgt. Jonathan Taylor, a KC-130J crew chief with the ACE, said the flight crew is usually the first to the aircraft.

“We have to get there early,” he said. “If there is something wrong with the aircraft we need to know about it.”

Crew chiefs are qualified in a variety of tasks related to the aircraft.

“We basically have to know everything about this aircraft,” said Sgt. Christopher Hampton, a KC-130J crew chief with the unit. “If something goes wrong while in the air, we have to be able to pinpoint the problem so we can make it easier on the maintenance specialist on the ground. But if the plane were to break while we were in flight and we were forced to land, we would be responsible for fixing the aircraft,”

During flight, the crew chiefs play a vital part to mission success.

“We basically help the pilots out,” Taylor said. “We watch the pressure and gas gauges to make sure nothing goes wrong with the system. If something were to go wrong we would let the pilots know we may need to land.”

But crew chiefs aren’t the only members on the team vital to accomplishing the mission.
Since the KC-130J is a cargo transport aircraft, it is usually loaded with a lot of cargo. This is where the loadmasters play an important role in the success of the aircraft’s mission.

KC-130J loadmasters are responsible for securing the equipment, loading and unloading cargo, ensuring the safety of all the passengers aboard the aircraft, handling aerial flares and refueling operations.

Staff Sgt. Michael Torres, a KC-130J loadmaster with the unit, said just like the crew chiefs, they begin the work day before the sun rises.

“We have to get to the aircraft early to ensure we have all of our gear, and the aircraft is preloaded,” he said.

On average, a flight consists of two loadmasters who handle all cargo and the passengers aboard. They must be flexible and be able to adapt and overcome any obstacle that may arise. The loadmasters also take charge when the crew is tasked with rapid ground refueling operations.

Before a refueling mission they prepare and check the aircraft’s fuel hoses prior to briefing the flight crew. They coordinate the initial landing at the refueling location, the refueling, safety procedures and the departure of the aircraft.

During these types of operations they work together with the crew chiefs to ensure overall mission success.

“The flight crew is like the human body,” Taylor said. “We work precisely and efficiently together to get the job done.”

Overall, the flight crew is the key to a successful mission and safety of every individual aboard. Without a crew of dedicated professionals, there would be a great deal of pressure and responsibility put upon the pilots, said 1st Lt. Craig Fitzhugh, a KC-130J pilot.

“The flight crew is the key to our community,” he said. “Everybody has a role to fill, and I am glad these guys are doing such a great job doing their part.
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