BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Standing on the Bagram Air Field flight line, one may imagine themselves saying as they look up at the sky, "it’s a bird; it’s a plane" ... but it’s not Superman. However, it may be a group of pilots that service members aren’t familiar with.
The maintenance test pilots of the 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Poseidon, thoroughly check Regional Command-East aircraft ensuring that the aircraft are air-worthy and safe to fly in the skies of Afghanistan.
Before the pilots can take to the air to test an aircraft, they, along with the crew, must first break down the aircraft and perform phase maintenance.
The phase maintenance consists of disassembling and reassembling numerous aircraft, including CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks and AH-60D Apaches.
“Once we receive the work order, we bring the aircraft in, break it down, inspect the aircraft, find and fix the deficiency and then put it back together,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 John K. Heinecke, chief test pilot for 122nd ASB.
“After the maintenance is completed, the test pilots go out and fly the aircraft following a maintenance test flight checklist, and they either find additional errors that need correction or they sign-off the aircraft as air-worthy,” the Baltimore native added.
The 122nd ASB completed maintenance on more than 60 aircraft in theater since last October, ensuring that RC-East aircraft will return to base safely after each mission.
“We support the line units by doing the heavy maintenance so they don’t have to focus on maintenance issues; they can conduct their mission,” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark L. Jones, a CH-47 Chinook maintenance examiner for 122nd ASB.
The Bountiful, Utah, native has test flown CH-47 Chinooks for more than 10 years and knows them like the back of his hand.
“You're conditioned just to know what the aircraft can and can’t do,” said Jones. “Knowing the aircraft inside and out is like having 'spidey senses.' The faster you can recognize and fix the issues, the faster the aircraft can get back into the fleet.”
Although the pilots aren’t superheroes, they are valuable assets to the overall mission.
“They’re the unsung pilots in Task Force Atlas,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Darryl L. Gerow Sr., of Middletown, N.Y., and the battalion commander of TF Atlas.
Gerow feels the test pilots often get overlooked, but he is proud to have them on his team during this deployment.
“These are some of the best pilots I’ve worked with in the last 10 years. I’m very proud of them and what they have accomplished.”