Saturday, May 14, 2011

Vietnam -- The Role Of A Cobra Crew Chief

Two men dressed in their nomex pilot suites are playing a game of cards as the land line rings.  They drop the cards, yell fire mission and a total of 6 -- including the two card players -- come from out of no where.

Racing up to two fully armed AH-IG Cobras, two of the four men untie the secured blades and move them into position for engine startup. Poping the old battery latch on the nose of the Cobra, they place the tie down into the empty area, and secure back down the cover.

The pilots yell, "Clear" in almost harmony and in almost equal precision, two voices can be heard replying back with "Clear and untied,sir."

The T55-L13B engines capable of producing 11 hundred shaft horse power start to come alive. First, just the popping sound of the igniters and the starter engine, then the maddening scream of a gas turbines.

Rotors are turning and picking up speed. Soon, they will become louder than the screaming turbine.

At this point, the two men who came with the pilots to transform silent metal into leathel Cobra helicopters focus on making sure everything is working inside the cockpit. With a thumbs up from the pilot, the pilot's canopy door gets closed and locked.

The two men get out of the way and watch the Cobras lift up, tilt down and pickup speed. With the thunder fading and the Cobras getting smaller as they race off to help some Infantry soldiers pinned down just east of the A Shau Valley.

The two men on the ground are Cobra Crew Chiefs.

Crew Chiefs are helicopter mechanics who have proven to be proficient and capable of understanding enough about all the other technologies involved with this helicopter in such a way that when there is a problem with the hydraulics system -- for example -- he can intelligently write up a maintenance request ticket.

Cobra Crew Chiefs were also front line maintenance responders. Routines included:

  1. polishing the plexiglass
  2. cleaning the interior of the cockpit
  3. making sure the flight controls worked and the blades weren't coming apart.
  4. checking on parts that moved for signs of wear and tare
  5. checking the Z-locks to make sure they worked, the carter keys and the safety wires weren't showing wear and tear
  6. making sure the oil, fuel and hydraulic fuild levels were at the correct levels
  7. greasing fittings
  8. assessing possible fod -- foreign object damage
  9. rearming the rocket pods with ten and 17 pound rockets
  10. rearming the turret system with mini gun ammo and 40mm gernades.
  11. making sure there wasn't any electrical system problems
  12. making sure the radios worked
Short of the armament involving wing stores, rocket tubes and related topics, there wasn't much difference between the duties of a Cobra Crew Chief and the duties of any other kind of crew chief.

The major difference between them is the Cobra Crew Chief did not have the ability to earn air medals.

It was a very rare and privileged ocassion to climb into the front seat of the Cobra and fly with a pilot.

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