by Senior Airman Brok McCarthy, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- For the first time in the history of the U.S. Central Command, the C-21s, the military version of the Learjet 35A, are being maintained by Airmen rather than contractors.
The 119th Aircraft Maintenance Unit stood up May 30 after 25 Airmen deployed here for 60 days from the North Dakota Air National Guard Base in Fargo, N.D.
"Air Mobility Command pilots have been flying the C-21 in the area of responsibility for at least the past 10 years, and our guard unit was partially mobilized to support the air tasking order," said Capt. Grant Larson, 119th AMU officer in charge. "Since our pilots were tasked to fly and support the ATO with guard aircraft, the decision was made to bring blue-suit maintenance as well."
The unit's noncommissioned officer in charge said their goal isn't to outshine the contractors who were taking care of the C-21, but to make sure they can meet any ATO that comes down.
"Hopefully, the 119th AMU taking over maintenance on the C-21 will be transparent," said Chief Master Sgt. Doug Faldet. "The contractors kept jets ready to fly at any time, and our goal is to do the same thing. Whenever someone needs to use one of our jets, they won't have to worry if it is ready to go or not."
The guard units at Fargo and at Bradley Air National Guard Base, Conn., were assigned the C-21 aircraft as a "bridge mission," helping the maintenance unit transition from maintaining fighters to maintaining cargo aircraft.
"In March of 2006, the North Dakota Air National Guard set a safety record by reaching 70,000 hours of accident-free flying in the F-16 aircraft," Captain Larson said. "The C-21 bridge mission will help us prepare for our follow on mission in the C-27 (Spartan) Joint Cargo Aircraft. Maintaining C-21 aircraft for an Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in the AOR will give us invaluable experience for when we get [the C-27], since we will probably be deployed quite a bit."
One of the biggest challenges the AMU has faced in the past two years is the fact that civilian contractors don't use technical orders like those used by maintenance Airmen.
"The customized maintenance manual that was built for the C-21 isn't written for a military setting," Chief Faldet said. "There are a lot of things that would normally be in a TO that the [manual] left out. Instead of giving step by step-by-step instructions, it will just say 'take this off.'"
Airmen also don't have the benefit of going through a detailed technical training program like with other airframes. Prior to working on the C-21, maintenance personnel are sent through a general introduction course and then a course on the jet's autopilot, both of which are two weeks long.
"It's been a lot of hands-on, scratch your head work, trying to figure things out," Chief Faldet said. "Just gaining system knowledge has been the hardest thing for us. The contractor who does maintenance has one airframe and power plant mechanic at each site to provide technical assistance, but he may or may not have run into a specific problem before."
In the short time since the unit stood up, it has already dealt with several major maintenance issues. But, Chief Faldet said the Airmen were able to fix them in good time.
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