UH-1N maintainers crucial to mission success

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
The Malmstrom flight line may not be an active fixed-wing aircraft hub, but the sound of helicopter rotors is a familiar one.

UH-1N Huey maintainers work seven days a week to ensure that missile security, support, and search and rescue missions are accomplished.

"For more than 24 years, Air Force UH-1N Huey maintainers have been civilian contractors," said Bruce Oleson, 341st Maintenance Operations Squadron site manager. "The contract requires a civilian aircraft maintenance license or military documented maintenance on aircraft. The majority of helicopter maintainers at Malmstrom earned aircraft maintenance qualifications through their service in the military - Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard."

Although the Huey is no longer a front-line weapon, that doesn't make the mission any less important. Malmstrom's maintainers conduct intensive inspections to ensure these helicopters are always airworthy.

"To fly the aircraft, we are required to do preflight inspections, thorough flight inspections, and at the end of the day, we conduct a basic post-flight inspection," Oleson said. "Along with that is write-up for the aircraft. If the aircrew sees something that's not meeting specifications, they document it, we inspect it and we fix the problem. We are constantly inspecting the aircraft."

The maintainers also perform phase inspections every 400 flying hours.

"We tear the aircraft down and perform an in-depth inspection of all the components and systems for that 400-hour cycle," Oleson said. "Many parts on a helicopter are time limited because there are so many moving parts such as bearings and seals. These inspections can last more than three weeks at a time."

Malmstrom's helicopter maintainers also provide 24/7 standby coverage to support an alert helicopter.

"The new contract that we follow, effective April, 2010, requires a helicopter to be readily available at any time of day," Oleson said. "We went from two shifts, working Monday through Friday, to five shifts."

Helicopter maintainers also fly on functional control flights. Whether it's replacing parts or making adjustments, after an aircraft has a discrepancy, a maintainer is required to fly on an FCF before the aircraft can become mission capable again.

Because of their age - Malmstrom has three 1968 models and five 1969 models - parts availability for the helicopters is expected to become an issue in the future. Oleson has been working on helicopters since 1977 and says that other branches may have phased out Hueys, but UH-1Ns will continue to be a dependable aircraft and integral asset to the base.

"Helicopter maintainers are very important to the base," said Kevin Mueller, 341st MOS aircraft mechanic. "Malmstrom's helicopter crews wouldn't be able to fly without us."