Flying Crew Chiefs – The C-17’s unsung heroes

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Wayne Capps
  • 315th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

As the aircraft prepared to depart, a simple, “chief” was yelled from the flight deck.  After a few minutes, the “chief” simply yelled back, “all set.” 

The nonchalant exchange happened on a recent real-world C-17 Globemaster III mission to Central America which could have resulted in a mission delay, if not for expertise of the crew’s flying crew chief.

The Flying Crew Chief, Master Sgt. Bernard Matthews is a member of the 315th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.  The issue… the C-17’s Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System failed the pilot’s pre-flight test.

“If he had not been onboard, we would not have gotten off the ground on time,” said Senior Master Sgt. Rick Higuera, a loadmaster with the 701st Airlift Squadron, who was on the mission.  “Mission success really relies on having a good crew chief.”

The flying crew chief program places maintainers on aircraft as part of the aircrew to manage general maintenance issues throughout the jet.  The C-17 is an aging fleet and according to Matthews, his job is to work through the general “quirks” of the aircraft to make sure it can get off the ground with minimal to no delay. 

He said his ultimate goal is to keep the mission moving. 

“We fly a lot of important missions,” said the 53-year-old maintainer.  “We fly everything from humanitarian aid to counter drug missions, and a lot of people depend on us to be there when we are supposed to be there.”

Matthews has been a flying crew chief for the past 16 years and said his favorite part of being a crew chief is “being able to see his missions being accomplished. Oh, and I get to see the world too,” he said.

According to Capt. Tim Fitzgerald, a pilot with the 701st AS, crew chiefs offer dependability on and off station.

“We depend so much on our crew chief,” he said. “Having a crew chief on board can mean the difference between having to stop for a day or getting the mission done, or even getting home.”

“We had a fuel line break in Jordan,” said Fitzgerald., when asked about specific times a crew chief has helped while flying.  “Our crew chief caught the issue pretty quickly but it could have been a big problem if he didn’t.”

“Crew chiefs on a C-17 are like a kicker on a football team,” he continued.  “They don’t always get the credit or the glory, but when it is their time to do their job, they are the most important player on the field.”

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