Warrior Stories

OH-58D Maintenance

Written by: Staff Sgt. Matthew Acosta

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1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry, Task Force Liberty, helicopters.

Courtesy Story

By Staff Sgt. Matthew Acosta
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

FORWARD OPERATING BASE MACKENZIE, Iraq - "We have logged well over 20,000 flying hours so far," said Lt. Col. Frank Muth, commander, 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry, Task Force Liberty. "And I don't see us slowing down any time soon."

Maintaining a fleet of 24 OH-58D Kiowa reconnaissance helicopters while deployed to a desert environment can be an overwhelming task, however the maintenance crews of the 1-17th Cav. have done so without missing a single mission due to maintenance problems.

"Since the desert is such a harsh climate, the maintenance schedule needs to be readjusted to be able to fly these aircraft as much as they need to fly, safely," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Van Alstyne, platoon sergeant, Troop D, 1-17 Cav. "The desert dust combined with the intense heat can accelerate the wear on critical parts and dry out seals causing leaks and damage to the aircraft."

Van Alstyne said every time a bird lands it will undergo scheduled maintenance before it flies again on the next mission, which often times is the next day.

"In order to keep these birds flyable, we need to perform most of the maintenance at night when many of the birds are on the ground so we're split up between the day shift and night shift, on and off every 12-hours," he added.

Besides the maintenance, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Steven Hamm, maintenance test pilot, Troop B, 1-17 Cav., said the day crews also prepare the birds for flying missions, making sure the radios are filled with the proper frequency and communications security codes, and help the pilots with preflight checks and inspections.

In a combat situation, maintenance issues aren't the only concern. When an aircraft is fired upon or is hit by insurgents, the entire helicopter needs to be inspected for damage.

"When a bird comes back with bullet holes, we need to inspect every inch to make sure there aren't any busted lines, cut wires or fragments that can cause the engine to stall and the bird to go down."

During a recent mission, a Kiowa took fire and the engine was damaged when the pilot pushed the helicopter to its limit.

"When the pilot took evasive action, he pushed the engine pretty hard, over-torquing it," Van Alstyne said. "But when life or limb is involved, that's what you do, you get out as fast as you can."

Van Alstyne said that over-torquing the jet engine in a helicopter is like over revving the engine in your car, and the engine would need to be changed, but he also said it's nothing that will keep if from flying again soon.

If they have all the necessary parts and the job is just an engine swap, it the aircraft should be flying in a day and a half, he said.

The maintenance crew works on the aircraft through the night and if they need any additional help, they call upon the contracted civilians to work on the bird, making it mission ready in a short time.

"We have contracted civilian helicopter technicians that help out with the aircraft, and the help they provide is invaluable because of the work load that's on the crew," said Hamm. "Many times these (Soldiers) work weeks without the prospect of having a day off; there's just too much work to do here."

Van Alstyne said when they need specific parts to get a bird operational, they rely on the "Pale Horse Express," a band of 1-17 Cav. Soldiers who are responsible for convoying to other forward operating bases to pick up supplies and helicopter parts.

"Sometimes we have a convoy go out to pick up helicopter parts, which helps us out a great deal because there are times when that ability alone keeps us on schedule," Van Alstyne said.

"With all this flying we're doing here it's a pretty incredible thing to be able to say we have never missed a mission due to a maintenance problem," Hamm said.

As their deployment nears its end, the maintenance technicians will continue working their long shifts maintaining the fleet of aircraft that watch Coalition Soldiers from above.

"When this deployment is over and we're all going home safely, as pilots, we know it's because of the (Soldiers) and the jobs they did," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Patrick Benson, pilot, 1-17 Cav. "We may be the guys behind the (helicopter) controls, but they're the guys behind the birds."

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.. OH-58D Maintenance