Day in the life of a U-2 crew chief

by Senior Airman David Owsianka
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

U-2 crew chiefImagine working on something worth approximately $60 million and being responsible for the safety of another person’s life. For the crew chiefs of the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, that’s just another day at work as they repair and maintain U-2 Dragon Ladies to ensure the squadron’s pilots can safely complete their reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

The crew chiefs are split into two shifts – preparation and launch, and recovery and inspection. Each shift begins with the prior shift leader providing information to the incoming crew chiefs on what maintenance has been completed and with Airmen assembling the necessary tools for their shift.

“The preparation and launch shift begins the launch preparation approximately five hours prior to takeoff,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Trusnik, 5th RS expediter. “They start by removing all of the dust excluders, protective covers and other items on the aircraft.”

The crew chiefs then turn on the power to check the lights, oxygen and fuel tanks, and balance the wings for flight. Next, they check the intakes and tail pipes for foreign objects and debris. Once completed, the crew chiefs prepare the aircraft for launch and set up the necessary ground equipment.

About one hour before launch, the crew chiefs do a FOD walk on the entire ramp to ensure it’s safe for the aircraft to take off. The crew chiefs begin launch procedures once the pilot has settled into the cockpit. After the plane has been cleared to fly, the Airmen marshal the pilot out and release him for his 6- to 10-hour mission.

“It feels good to see the aircraft launch and know I was part of it,” said Senior Airman Aaron Wood, 5th RS crew chief. “It’s important that we maintain the jet correctly to ensure the pilot can safely complete the mission.”

In flight, the U-2 is used for both tactical and strategic reconnaissance to deliver imagery and signals intelligence to decision makers throughout all the phases of conflict in contingency operations. It is equipped with sensors that capture high-resolution images from the edge of space, which can be enlarged beyond the resolution of any other digital sensor.

Once the aircraft is in the air, the Airmen complete any necessary training before the recovery and inspection shift arrives.

The recovery and inspection crew’s shift starts with preparation for recovering the aircraft about 30 minutes prior to landing. The Airmen have the necessary tools and cockpit stand prepositioned to expedite completing their tasks.

“After the aircraft is marshaled to a stopping point, the pilot briefs us on any issues with the aircraft,” Trusnik said. “We tow the jet into the hangar for maintenance afterwards.”

The crew chiefs perform a post-flight inspection at the end of the flying day to ensure the aircraft will be structurally fit for its next flight as well as checking all fluids and lubricants are at a sufficient level.

“Troubleshooting maintenance problems helps me gain a better understanding of how everything in the aircraft works together and broadens my knowledge base of the jet,” Trusnik said.

Once the maintenance work is complete, the aircraft is refueled and Airmen service oxygen into the aircraft and prepare the jets for the next flight. The Airmen are proud of the work they perform each day.

“I have worked on this aircraft my whole career, and I love it,” Trusnik said. “It is very satisfying to watch the aircraft take off after we have sunk more than 12 hours into repairing it to meet each mission requirement.”

PHOTO: Airman 1st Class Caleb Deaton, 5th Reconnaissance Squadron crew chief, places aircraft chocks and a main landing gear pin on a U-2 Dragon Lady during the recovery phase prior to the engine shutting down on Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, May 15, 2014. Crew chiefs perform a post-flight inspection at the end of the flying day to ensure the aircraft is structurally fit for its next flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman David Owsianka/Released)

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Day in the life of a U-2 crew chief