Face of Defense: B-2 Crew Chief Fills Important Role
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicholas Wilson
509th Bomb Wing
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo., Apr. 11, 2013 His hands are glazed from spatters of grease and oil. His uniform reeks of hydraulic fluid after working a 12-hour shift maintaining a B-2 Spirit bomber.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Steven McCray speaks to the pilot through a headset and communications cord during a B-2 Spirit bomber pre-flight inspection at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., April 5, 2013. During preflight inspections, crew chiefs review a checklist with pilots to ensure the aircraft is free of abnormalities. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Airman 1st Class Steven McCray, 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit B-2 crew chief, is one of more than 160 crew chiefs who perform maintenance on the B-2. He is assigned to the maintenance team for the “Spirit of Missouri,” one of two B-2s that flew the March 28 long-duration, round-trip training mission to South Korea as part of the Foal Eagle training exercise.
“It is an amazing feeling to be able to say, ‘My jet flew on that training mission to South Korea,’” McCray said. “It felt good to see it on national television and to read about it in news articles. [Seeing] photos of the plane I helped launch was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The news of McCray’s B-2 even attracted the attention of family and friends in Sanderson, Fla., McCray’s hometown.
“Airman McCray, on this particular endeavor, did his job exactly like he does his job every day,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Jones, 13th AMU dedicated crew chief. “When we come to work, we train how we fight. Airman McCray was simply handling business as usual.”
Jones is the flight lead who supervises McCray’s shift.
“The B-2 is a big part of our Air Force,” McCray said. “Not having a stealth-capable aircraft could be disastrous. You never know when our country might need the B-2 for a global emergency, so that’s our motivation -- to provide the highest quality maintenance possible.”
McCray said he gets a lot of his motivation from the pride in his aircraft and the knowledge that pilots are safe when they take off.
“Not only are the pilots' lives in our hands but, like a car engine, B-2s also need to be fixed,” McCray said. “If we can’t do our job properly, then the aircraft won’t even lift off the ground.”
Part of making sure B-2s can lift off means performing pre-flight and post-flight inspections to ensure all components are in working order.
“We’re constantly inspecting,” McCray said. “Even when an aircraft isn’t going anywhere, it still gets inspected.”
Attention to detail is crucial, because hours of hard work from various maintenance sections can go down the drain if one crew chief does not do his job correctly, McCray said.
If issues arise during inspections, B-2 crew chiefs have more than 1,000 technical orders they can follow, which provide step-by-step guidance on how to troubleshoot and perform each task. “We have to do exactly what the TO tells us to do, verbatim,” McCray said. “There’s no corner-cutting at all.”
Having been stationed at Whiteman for more than two years, McCray has had his fair share of maintenance work on all shifts.
“I’ve been on days, mids and swings, and none of them are really bad,” McCray said. “It’s just that they might need you on days one day because the manning could be low or they need to fill a spot. Or they can put you on swings because you are more experienced compared to younger airmen, and they need some type of leadership.”
During his first few months, McCray said, he had some trouble adjusting to working through night shifts, because his body was not used to sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. “I had to cover my windows with aluminum foil to block out the sunlight,” he added.
In addition to adjusting to different work shifts, the Florida native also had to adjust to Missouri’s long, cold winters.
“Where I’m from, the coldest it ever got was about 60 degrees,” he said. “I saw snow and icy roads for the first time my first year here.”
For McCray, maintenance is a lot more than just a job that pays the bills. It is a standard of living.
“It’s part of your lifestyle. You can’t just go home and not think about maintenance,” he said. “Even though you’re relaxed when you get home, you still have to think about the next day’s events, because you want to be on your ‘A’ game every time you come back to work.”
Whether launching a B-2 or providing routine maintenance, crew chiefs are one large part of the flight line team that keep Spirits soaring.
“At the end of the day you need [aircraft generation equipment personnel], you need pilots. and you need crew chiefs,” McCray said. “Everybody is a big piece of the puzzle on the flight line.”