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62nd AMXS flying crew chiefs keep the mission moving 24/7, 365

Staff Sgt. Robert Tingle, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance flying crew chief, conducts a review of an electronic checklist before taking off during a mission Sept. 10, 2009. The responsibility of a flying crew chief, or FCC, is to travel with cargo airlift to lo

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You've been on the road for eight days of non-stop flying and the plane just broke down. Your crew is transporting wounded servicemembers from the war zone to receive medical treatment in a country nearby. Everyone is counting on you to fix the problem, your hands are shaking and you're trouble-shooting the issue as quickly as you can.

Such pressure is a common theme in the world of flying crew chiefs for the 62nd Airlift Wing's C-17 Globemaster III.

"They are completely solo out there on the road," said Master Sgt. Shawn Lavoie, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chief program manager. "Here, you have an umbrella of leadership and specialists that can look into the problem and sort it out. Out there, we rely on them to make the call on every little decision and declare the aircraft flight-worthy."

The responsibility of a flying crew chief, or FCC, is to travel with cargo airlift to locations that do not have maintenance capabilities. Averages of 20 missions per week are split between the 62nd AW's 47 certified FCCs.

"Missions can range anywhere from one day to two weeks to longer," said Lavoie. "Our typical missions are six to eight days. Usually, they have less than five days back at home station before they're on another mission."

Of those 47 certified FCC Airmen, more than two dozen are constantly away from their squadron, staging missions in locations across the world.

"Staging a mission basically means our Airmen remain at a particular location for about 60 days," said Lavoie. "The major benefit of staging is to keep our people closer to the action so we don't have to continually send new teams."

Flying crew chiefs often work in stressful, hand-shaking situations which require more skills that aren't taught in technical school. This is what sets them apart from standard crew chiefs.

"Flying crew chiefs are the absolute cream of the crop of the maintenance career field," said Lavoie. "There is a rigorous selection process and not everybody qualifies for the position. Even before Airmen can apply, it takes them about a year to complete all of the required training."

A laundry list of required training items must be completed before applying to the FCC program, such as a three-week FCC class and a minimum of one year spent working on and getting familiar with the aircraft. The C-17 is the newest, most flexible aircraft to enter the Air Force and according to maintainers, it's a complex system to get thoroughly acquainted with.

Airmen also must meet minimal requirements dictated by the squadron, for example, specific scores on enlisted performance reviews and a five-level job qualification.

"Basically, these maintainers need to be prepared to face and resolve any situation that may present itself," said Lavoie. "Not all FCCs are crew chiefs by trade."

The majority of flyers come from a crew chief background, but a select few are specialists, such as jet engine mechanics or avionics technicians. According to Lavoie, for a specialist to step up is more challenging because they have an in-depth knowledge of one specific system as opposed to a broad knowledge of the entire aircraft.

"I'm originally an integrated flight control systems technician, but I've wanted to be a flying crew chief since the day I got to this base," said Staff Sgt. Clinton Riley, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flying crew chief.

Riley strived to become an FCC to gain a new perspective of his career field.

"Flying gives you such a different experience," said Riley. "During a deployment, you stay in one spot, doing one thing. While you're flying, you do everything. For example, I've done a wide range of things from Presidential missions to tagging along with professional flying teams. While you're flying, it's much easier to see the impact of what you're doing."

Riley is flying missions an average of 19 days per month. After visiting 24 different countries across five continents during his two years of FCC experience, Riley says it's hard to stay in one place for too long.

"You get so used to moving around that when you're complacent for too long, you get the itch to fly again," said Riley. "When I get home, I raise my hand for the next possible mission and I'm out the door again. I think this is the best job in the Air Force, and I'm going to do this until they tell me I can't anymore."

According to Lavoie, enthusiasm such as Riley's makes an FCC's job much easier. The critical demand for FCCs to perform at their highest level of ability is an essential key in the success of Air Mobility Command's mission.

"Our Airmen are not only getting people out of a situation in a timely manner, you're delivering life-saving supplies," said Lavoie. "If they don't make this plane continually move, the mission doesn't happen. FCCs keep the aircraft moving on a continuous basis: 24/7, 365. No matter what."





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