JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
In contrast to the uniformity of the aircraft they maintain, crew chiefs are unique individuals, from various backgrounds, each contributing something different to the flying mission.
But one commonality the Airmen of the 525th Aircraft Maintenance Unit at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson share is the full responsibility of tactical aircraft maintenance. Their job is to ensure every component of these high-performance aircraft is maintained to precise standards.
For more than 99 years, these 3rd Wing specialists have been making sure the aircraft in their care is ready to fly at a moment’s notice, so pilots can safely and effectively complete their mission.
“The decision was easy; I knew I wanted to be an aircraft maintainer when at a young age I was given the opportunity of going to work with my uncle, who at the time was a F-16 crew chief,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Donavan Hall, a 525th AMU, F-22 Raptor designated crew chief. “I decided I wanted to serve and have the same experiences these guys had.”
Although Hall knew the job he wanted, he learned at his first and second duty stations how important his role was to the mission.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Airman 1st Class Ian Pierce found a new passion when he was retrained from a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape specialist to aircraft maintenance and became an F-22 Raptor assistant dedicated crew chief, also assigned to the 525th AMU.
“Within 24 hours of being told I was retraining, I was sent to aircraft maintenance school to learn the basics,” Pierce said. “It seemed effortless to go from something like SERE into learning about aircraft. I didn’t want a job that was redundant or monotonous; in maintenance I have found every day has a different set of problems and solutions, keeping it exciting.”
It is extremely satisfying to see a non-mission capable jet become mission-ready when an ongoing issue is figured out through innovative thinking, Hall said.
“Being an aircraft maintainer for the F-22 Raptor is an all-encompassing job,” Hall said. “We are responsible for absolutely everything; from inspecting the aircraft, to fixing any issues that develop during flight, repairing landing gears, engines, hydraulic systems, tire inspection and maintenance, we do it all.”
Being a dedicated crew chief means they are the last point of contact between the F-22 Raptor pilot and the ground crews.
“To get through the long days and nights we have to keep a positive mindset, teamwork and humor at a high,” Hall said. “I feel like the key to achieving this is staying eager to learn from those with more experience and listening to the innovative ideas of those with less experience. The magnitude of the responsibility of signing off on the work these guys do is huge. Trust has to be built.”
In addition to checking and signing off on completed repairs, another part of an, noncommissioned officer’s job is to train new Airmen coming in from technical training and bringing them up to the next level.
“Even though I work on this jet all the time, I learn something new from the younger Airmen,” Hall said. “I also get a lot of satisfaction when they show me they can do the job. Communication and trust are the biggest things on a flightline.”
Even though an eight-hour shift can often turn into 10 to 12 hours because of a repair, the sound of that jet taking off the next day makes it all worth it, Pierce said.
“Although our job is fast-paced and we work long hours, I see how strong the bond is between us,” Hall said. “Whether you’re experienced, up and coming, or new it doesn’t matter; the job must get done or the flying mission can’t happen. That is something we all take seriously.”