AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar— The 340th and the 22nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Units work together around the clock here to inspect, repair, service, launch and recover the fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. Each month, aircraft maintained by the two units successfully complete more than 1,200 sorties, delivering more than 40 million pounds of fuel to more than 3,500 receivers. The numbers tell the story of the largest tanker operation in the United States Air Force, conducting approximately 40% of all Air Force refuels with 10% of the KC-135 fleet.
The list of tasks required to inspect, repair, service and launch the aircraft evolve constantly for the AMUs, and everything is done in support of the daily Air Tasking Order. The ATO lays out how many aircraft are needed for the overall daily mission, which involves the daily launch and recovery of aircraft seven days a week 365 days a year.
“It’s magic that happens every day” said Senior Master Sgt. Adolfo Hernandez, superintendent assigned to the 340th EAMU. The magic Hernandez is referring to is the ability of the 340th EAMU and the 22nd EAMU to work together and keep all of the KC-135 Stratotankers here ready to fly safely and on time.
Hernandez speaks a lot about the diversity of more than 350 airmen from over 27 different home bases that make up the two units. As you walk around the maintenance building and across the flight line and speak with the men and women doing their jobs, it doesn’t take long to get a real feeling for the diversity he’s referring too. Currently, Air National Guard members make up over 50% of the units. The 340th and the 22nd EAMUs, although separate on paper, essentially work as a single unit on the flight line. They are brought together by pure necessity.
“The most impressive thing is the teamwork that goes on here,” said Hernandez.
In the last month alone, approximately 135 new members arrived from over 17 separate bases. “Finding out who knows what and who is good at doing what is probably the hardest thing to overcome,” said Airman 1st Class Jesse Marquez, electrical environmental systems specialist assigned to the 340th EAMU. Getting to know one another quickly and working as a team is only one of the challenges the EAMUs overcome. The extreme heat and the high work tempo bring their own unique challenges to the job.
While working on the flight line, the airmen take advantage of the shade provided by the aircraft whenever possible, and vehicles are sent around with supplies of water and ice for those who need it. The tempo is something that changes very little but it’s always fast. The new airmen arriving generally have little time to adjust to the temperature and to the high tempo before it’s time to get to work.
“They get off the plane and they’re pretty much working the next day,” said Hernandez.
“Just like people get adjusted to the conditions here, the aircraft do the same thing,” said Hernandez. The heat provides a specific challenge for the EAMUs, especially when it comes to keeping the electronics on each jet functional.
Since KC-135 Stratotankers are unable to generate air conditioning while parked on the runway, cool air is piped into each jet via a mobile air conditioning cart to reduce the temperature of the circuit breakers and avionics prior to takeoff.
“It’s nice for the aircrew, but it’s mainly for the jet, because it’s not going to fly without that AC,” said Master Sgt. Ian Catania, production superintendent assigned to the 22nd EAMU.
“Temperatures here are by far, 100% the biggest challenge,” said Senior Master Sgt. William Sams, production superintendent assigned to the 340th EAMU.
It would be easy to say that what the EAMUs do here is magic, but if you dig a bit deeper it doesn’t take long to realize that the magic happening out there on the flight line is just the maintainers simply doing their jobs and doing them very skillfully and professionally around the clock to keep everything running smooth.
“I just enjoy the jigsaw puzzle aspect of it,” said Sams, referring to the job of production superintendent he shares every day with Catania. Sams and Catania share the responsibility of overseeing flight line operations during daytime hours and ensuring all of the maintainers have what they need. They, together with the rest of the maintainers make sure that all aircraft assigned to fly are ready to fly safely and on time. The mission supported by the 340th and 22nd EAMUs has challenged maintainers for nearly 13 years and continues, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.