386th AMU keeps supplies moving downrange

A 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintainer inspects a C-130H Hercules at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. The maintainers inspect aircraft thoroughly before and after each flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

A 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintainer inspects a C-130H Hercules at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. The maintainers inspect aircraft thoroughly before and after each flight. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

William Haas, a 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, top right, talks with Cody Margetis, a 737th EAS loadmaster, bottom right, while securing aircraft equipment in the cargo area of a C-130H Hercules at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. Over the last three months, C-130s assigned to the 386th moved an average of nearly 6,000 tons of cargo throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

William Haas, a 737th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, top right, talks with Cody Margetis, a 737th EAS loadmaster, bottom right, while securing aircraft equipment in the cargo area of a C-130H Hercules at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. Over the last three months, C-130s assigned to the 386th moved an average of nearly 6,000 tons of cargo throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

U.S. service members board a C-130H Hercules at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. Over the last three months, the 386th has moved an average of nearly 8,000 passengers a month throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

U.S. service members board a C-130H Hercules at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. Over the last three months, the 386th has moved an average of nearly 8,000 passengers a month throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

A C-130H Hercules taxis down the runway prior to takeoff at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. Some C-130s have already flown upwards of 800 hours in a single month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

A C-130H Hercules taxis down the runway prior to takeoff at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia Dec. 4, 2016. Some C-130s have already flown upwards of 800 hours in a single month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrew Park)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The 386th Air Expeditionary Wing oversees the busiest aerial port of debarkation in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. The wing plays a major logistical role in getting needed supplies downrange. The C-130H Hercules in particular stands out as the only aircraft versatile enough to help the 386th complete this mission.

“A lot of places that (C-130s) are going to are unimproved strips, smaller strips, air strips that are as small as 3,000 feet,” said Maj. Ken Fechter, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. 
 
To put that in perspective, the length of the runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Ga. is 12,390 feet. The unimproved strips where C-130s land are typically dirt strips, grass fields or dry lake beds which lack support facilities such as air traffic controllers, maintenance, and fuel. The C-130 is designed to take off from and land on these unimproved strips and is the Air Force’s primary transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas.

Although the C-17 Globemaster III can also perform similar tactical airlift and airdrop missions, its use is reserved for more strategic movements of troops and cargo to traditional bases or those in deployed environments. The C-5 Galaxy, a much larger aircraft than a C-130, requires runways at least 6,000 feet in length.

Fechter’s AMU takes care of maintenance for the C-130s and is comprised of members from the Montana Air National Guard and the Illinois Air National Guard.

“(C-130s) are very robust,” said Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Bollich, 386th EAMXS AMU flight chief. “They can take a beating and still hold up to the type of torment we put them through sometimes.”

Over the last three months, the 386th has moved an average of nearly 6,000 tons of cargo and 8,000 passengers a month throughout the AOR in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. This increase in operational tempo means that the C-130s require more maintenance in order to continue operating in the current environment, Fechter said.

“In a typical year in Montana, we fly about 2,000 hours in a whole year,” said Fechter. “We flew upwards of 800 hours in one month while being here.”
Proper maintenance of the aircraft ensures it can continue to fly missions and get required supplies downrange at the right time.

The maintainers’ primary mission is to ensure the C-130s are operating as they should so that they can continue to safely fly into the AOR to deliver supplies or personnel. They accomplish this by inspecting each aircraft thoroughly before and after each flight, said Fechter.

These inspections encompass the entire aircraft – from nose to tail – looking for the most minor of defects that would interfere with the aircraft’s airworthiness.

“We go through all the engines,” explained Bollich. “We look at the fluid levels. We look at magnetic chip detectors to make sure we’re not seeing any increased wear on any of the engines. We look at wheels and tires and at all the different hydraulic systems on the aircraft. We look at the rail system in the back that the cargo moves in and out on pallets in and out of the airplane so we can also do air drops. The rail system also keeps all the cargo in place while we’re flying. We look at all those systems to make sure they’re all up to par and ready to go.”

Fechter said his team aims to make the aircrew on these C-130s as safe as possible. He wants aircrews to have the same level of trust in their maintainers as he does when he takes commercial flights with his family. It is this level of pride in their workmanship that keeps their aircraft fully operational and ready to complete its mission.

“We’re providing airplanes that we’ve put a lot of heart and soul into,” Bollich said. “We feel proud to give the airplanes to (the operators) to have them go out and deliver stuff to the guys that need it.”

The AMU also recognizes the impact of its work on ensuring the aircraft not only delivers valuable cargo but that it is also capable of safely bringing back valuable cargo.

“A lot of the things we’re seeing going into the back of this aircraft, you know the immediate impact that they’re going to have downrange, whether it be ammunition, blood, command structure for Army moving in, or bringing people out to come home,” Fechter said. “There are a lot of roles we’re able to do that are very helpful for the whole mission."