The Dedicated Crew Chief

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jeff Parkinson
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

To maintain air superiority, aircraft must be ready to take off in a moment’s notice. It takes a dedicated team of knowledgeable crew chiefs to maintain these aircraft and ensure they are ready for rapid global mobility anytime, anyplace.

Among these crew chiefs, there are a select few who hold the title of dedicated crew chief.

“Dedicated crew chief is a duty title that not every crew chief will obtain during their career,” said Tech Sgt. Justin Bauer, the AC-130J flight line expediter with the 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. “Only about 10 percent of crew chiefs in a unit ever get the honor to be titled as such.”

Dedicated crew chiefs are selected on the basis of initiative, technical knowledge, management and leadership ability, regardless of their respective Air Force specialty code.

The title dedicated crew chief is part of a time-honored tradition that dates back to World War II, where an aircraft mechanic was assigned to one plane and was soley responsible for its maintenance.

This honor gave them the privilege of naming their aircraft.

“Only the first DCC of an aircraft has the honor of naming it,” Bauer said. “It’s significant because the name that the DCC chooses will stick with the aircraft for its entire service life, potentially 30 years.”

For the DCCs of the new AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, that privilege is a once-in-a-career opportunity. Bauer was the DCC for the second AC-130J to arrive at Hurlburt, and he kept to the heritage of gunships when he named his aircraft.

“When I was the DCC for aircraft 5772, I named it ‘Hells Bell,’ after a famous gunship from World War II,” he said. “I felt that the tradition and heritage of that name was important, so I wanted to carry it on.”

In today’s Air Force, crew chiefs are required to know every aspect of the aircraft assigned to their unit, so they can work on any aircraft in the fleet, not just the aircraft with their name on it.

“An additional expectation of a DCC is to train outside of their respective career field, allowing them to become a well-rounded maintainer,” Bauer said. “Often times, while accompanying their aircraft through scheduled inspections or TDYs, technical expertise and knowledge outside their career field may be crucial to mission accomplishment.”

Dedicated crew chiefs are responsible for managing and supervising all maintenance on their respective aircraft by coordinating with other maintenance specialties such as propulsion, hydraulics and engines. They are also responsible for coordinating outside agencies such as sheet metal, fuels and aero repair to ensure the aircraft is operational in a timely manner.

“I am held accountable for what goes on with my aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin Thomas, an AC-130J DCC with the 1st SOAMXS. “I need to know the status of every job in my forms, if my expeditor comes to me with questions, I need to give him a good answer right away. If not, then I become the in between guy to figure out what the problem is.”

Senior Airman Nicole Pederson, an AC-130J crew chief with the 1st SOAMXS, was recently named the DCC for the newest AC-130J Ghostrider gunship to arrive at Hurlburt in January.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be named DCC because senior airmen aren’t normally dedicated crew chiefs,” she said. “It shows that my leadership believes in me, and I am capable of having this responsiblilty.”

For Pederson, the work hasn’t gotten any harder, but it has provided opportunity for greater responsibility.

“It’s a lot of moving parts, and I have to know a lot on the status [of my plane],” she said. “I am learning a lot more about everything and being more responsible of knowing everything about the plane, how the systems work, what systems go together, so I am learning a lot as a DCC.”

Bauer said DCCs are normally required to be staff sergeants because they are often the lead when their aircraft goes off station, and forms generally require a craftsman, a certified technical expert, to sign them off.

“The requirement for a DCC to be a staff sergeant has the ability to be waived by an aircraft maintenance unit superintendent,” he said. “And based on the aforementioned qualities of Pederson, the exception was allowed by her leadership.”

Pederson’s leadership said the young airman stood out among her peers as an excellent choice for a DCC because of her professionalism and work ethic.

“Senior Airman Pederson strives to continue broadening her knowledge of the AC-130J and consistently takes advantage of opportunities to train those around her,” Bauer said. “She was identified as an excellent choice to be the DCC for aircraft 5787; it was unanimously agreed upon through all levels of supervision.”

Staff Sgt. Hugh Wilson, the DCC program manager with the 1st SOAMXS, says he enjoys how the program gives the DCCs something to take pride in.

“When I was a DCC, that was my plane,” he said. “I took care of that plane like I take care of my car. I make sure it’s clean, set up the way I like it and ready for aircrew at any moment.”

For Thomas, it’s a friendly competition and it’s important to work with the assistant DCCs and inspire them to get together to keep the aircraft up to speed.

“There are a couple times that my aircraft didn’t make it off the ground, and you joke around with everyone, but you want your plane to be the pride of the fleet,” Thomas said. “It’s a friendly competition, but at the same time if someone walks onto my aircraft and there are communication cords everywhere or things are disheveled, it’s a reflection of me even though I may not have touched it in the last two shifts.”

As the newest DCC at the 1st SOAMXS, it didn’t take long for Pederson to find that pride in her work.

“I find myself thinking about my plane a lot outside of work and when I’m here,” she said. “I do want my plane to be the best out there, when [aircrew] needs a plane, I want them to say, ‘we want her plane; we want 87.’ I want them to fly the hell out of my plane. That shows that I am doing my job; maintaining the aircraft the way I am supposed to.”