Thursday, March 26, 2009

Marine helo mechanics repair damaged Hornet in Afghanistan

Date written: March 20, 2009
Story by: Sgt. Juan D. Alfonso

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – Despite having zero experience with fixed-wing aircraft, a team of helicopter mechanics diffused what could have been a potentially deadly situation involving an F/A-18E Super Hornet on Kandahar Air Field, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, March 18, 2009.

According to Staff Sgt. Jorge Minjares, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361’s Flight Line Section, part of Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan’s air combat element, the situation began when a Naval pilot with the USS Roosevelt (CVN-71) attempted to refuel his F-18 while airborne. During the process, the refueling aircraft’s fuel basket broke off from the fuel hose and remained fixed to the F-18’s refueling probe on the nose of the aircraft.

“It was just unsafe to fly,” said Sgt. Nicholas G. Koreneos, Flight Line Section noncommissioned officer in charge. “The fuel basket was locked on the fuel probe and he was running low on fuel. If the basket came off while he was in the air, it could [have] injured the pilot, damaged the bird’s airframe, canopy, engine; it was bad a situation.”

Shortly afterward, the pilot landed on Kandahar Air Field to refuel and repair his aircraft. But once on the ground, a new issue arose: there were no F-18 mechanics.

That’s when Minjares and his crew received a call from Lt. Col. Peter C. McConnell, the air combat element’s executive officer.

“He asked us if we knew how to remove a basket from an F-18,” Minjares said. “So I told him, ‘we’d give it a try.’”

Despite having zero experience working with fixed-wing aircraft, Minjares and his team put their mechanical expertise to the test.

“None of us had ever worked on this (type of aircraft), but we gave it our best shot,” said Cpl. Matthew D. Rodriguez, a CH-53E flight line mechanic. “We observed the design, spinning the basket, looking at it from all angles until we figured out how to take it apart.”

After 20 minutes their task was complete and the Hornet was ready to fly.

“The Marines did an outstanding job,” Minjares said. “They were excited and motivated to work on something new. They took control and checked the aircraft when they were done to make sure it was ready to fly. They were on point and did an awesome job.”

Thanks to Minjares’ crew, the F-18 took off the following day.
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