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451st Airmen return damaged MQ-9 to air with hard work, innovation

  • Published
  • By Maj. Tony Wickman
  • 455 Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

A team of 451st Air Expeditionary Group Airmen responded recently with innovative thought and hard work to get an MQ-9 Reaper aircraft back flying, only a week after it suffered damage during a non-combat related hard landing.

Airmen from the 451st AEG safety office and 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron worked together to get the aircraft back into the line to support the air tasking order.

“These Airmen are innovators…they figured out how to fix this aircraft in this environment to meet the objective of getting it back into the fight quickly,” said Col. Rhude Cherry, 451st AEG commander. “The MQ-9 took significant damage to the wing, propeller and landing gear after a hard landing. The propeller and landing gear were easily repaired by exchanging the parts, but the wing damage took significant work and effort because of the material it is made of. The Airmen who fixed it were challenged, but overcame every obstacle and saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars by doing the work here in Kandahar instead of sending the aircraft home for depot maintenance.”

According to Cherry, the group’s safety office and aircraft maintenance squadron got their teams together quickly to do the initial safety review, and then got the aircraft in the hangar to work on it immediately. He had nothing but praise for the Airmen responsible for getting the aircraft repaired as quickly and safely as possible.

“I’m proud of our team for being patient and understanding what occurred, assessing the damage, and then not waiting around to see how we were going to fix it but instead jumping in and getting it fixed as fast as possible to get it back in the air,” said Cherry. “These leaders and Airmen deserve a lot of thanks and credit for getting together, working fast and hard and getting the aircraft fixed. It was incredible, incredible teamwork.”

One of the Airmen involved in the repair was Staff Sgt. Courtlyn Collier, 451st EAMXS crew chief, who said the aircraft was repairable, but took a total team effort to get it done.

“This aircraft is easily repairable, but it was a total team effort between the avionics and sheet metal teams and crew chiefs to come together and get the job done fast,” said Collier, who is deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. “It was nice, and a big deal, to be able to get it back in the air after about week. This aircraft provides vital support to all of the services who operate outside the wire…they’re always calling for us. So, having another aircraft available to them is invaluable.”

Senior Airman Jordan Page, 451st EAMXS sheet metal specialist deployed from Creech AFB, Nevada, agreed it was a total team effort and important for the wing’s overall mission of delivering decisive airpower in support of NATO’s Resolute Support mission and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“It was absolutely a team effort to get this aircraft repaired and back in the air. Tech. Sgt. (John) Davis and I did the composite damage repair, while others worked on repairing the rest of the damage,” said Page, who was one of the first on scene to do the initial evaluation on the aircraft. “We called the evaluators and submitted the paperwork to get the work done here. We got it approved and got the aircraft back into the air…I got to paint the aircraft’s numbers back on after everything checked out and was good to go.”

Page said it was important to get the aircraft back in the air because it saves lives.

According to Cherry, part of the difficulty in doing maintenance in theater is that when Airmen show up at Kandahar many of them only have knowledge on one type of aircraft. Once here, however, they must learn each type and software version for the aircraft assigned to the group.

“They don’t necessarily get that training at home station, so they learn on the job here,” said Cherry. “It’s a testament to their ability to shape themselves into the great maintenance Airmen they are and take on the challenges day-to-day, and do it successfully without failing.”

During a visit May 3, Brig. Gen. Mark D. Kelly, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, praised the 451st AEG team for their efforts.

“You guys work daily logistical and maintenance miracles on these aircraft, and I thank you for what you do every day,” said the general.