Eddie Minter, C-130 functional test work lead, mets with
MSgt. Tony Valente, flight engineer, before a testflight
of an MC-130E. 4/16/08
Photo: USAF / Sue Sapp
4/25/2008 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA -- For members of the
339th Flight Test Squadron, their below the radar existence
means a job well done.
The mission of the group is to certify aircraft as worthy to
return to the fight. The squadron is responsible for conducting
flight tests on the C-130 Hercules, the C-5 Galaxy and F-15
Eagle after program depot maintenance is completed at the Warner
Robins Air Logistics Center.
Every time the engineers and pilots fly and return safely after
an uneventful flight, the sound of success rings in their ears.
"It's a good thing people don't know about us, because
it means we are doing a good job and not having a lot of incidents,"
said Chief Master Sgt. Harry Smith, chief flight engineer.
The aircrew members, which are both active-guard reservists
and traditional reservists, are trained on a specific aircraft.
The differences within each aircraft are significant as there
are 24 variations of the C-130, four of the C-5 and five of
"It is challenging for the pilots and engineers who fly
them to be proficient," said Maj. Jeremy Mickelson, a C-130
He explained some aircraft appear exactly as they did when
they rolled off the assembly line, while other aircraft have
been modified, adding items such as extra refueling pods and
terrain-following radar to help them perform their varied missions.
The members of the squadron are all aware how important their
role is to the success of the warfighter.
Lt. Col. Fritz Heck is commander of the 339th FTS and
an F-15 pilot. 4/16/08
Photo: USAF / Sue Sapp
"These airplanes are going from here back to their home
unit and almost immediately back to the war on terror,"
said Lt. Col. Fritz Heck, commander of the 339th Flight Test
Squadron. "When they need it to work, we want it to work,
whether it's evading a threat or getting it to a target we want
them to know they can count on it."
All of the aircraft the unit flies go through months of program
depot maintenance before the pilots of the 339th FTS put them
back in the air for the first time.
"We wouldn't be here if the maintainers weren't doing
their job," said Master Sgt. Tony Valente, a C-130 flight
"There are a lot of systems, we can't look at. We rely
on them to check so we can fly it," said Master Sgt. Patrick
Cioffi, C-5 flight engineer.
Eddie Minter, a crew chief for the C-130 flight test with the
402nd Maintenance Wing, said one of the many advantages of the
relationship between the maintainers and the members of the
squadron is the ability to draw from all the varied experience
available from both the aircrew members and the maintainers.
"They rely on us and we rely on them," Mr. Minter
Colonel Heck said the big picture is the maintenance mission
of the WR-ALC.
"We only see those airplanes for two weeks at a time,
and there are 1,000s of man hours that go into the aircraft
to get them ready to fly," Colonel Heck said.
The maintainers, engineers and flyers all maintain a relationship
that fosters open communication to ensure the aircraft are deemed
airworthy as quickly and efficiently as possible.
"We are the last mechanics to work on the aircraft before
the flight. We have to get it right for them," said Frank
Castrillo, C-5 functional test mechanic. "It's a complex
aircraft. Getting them to all work in unison takes a lot of
However, keeping the test pilots safe and prepared for any
emergency that could arise is also a top priority for the squadron
and the maintainers they work with.
"We've got to have a rapport with these pilots because
they trust their lives with us," said George Reid, an F-15
Maj. Jon Daigle, pilot, and MSgt. Pat Cioffi, flight
engineer, discuss pre-flight checks on a C-5. 4/16/08
Photo: USAF / Sue Sapp
Members of the aircrew flight equipment team are responsible
for providing the equipment needed during an emergency for training
the aircrew in areas such as water and land survival.
The team also ensures the flight engineers and pilots are safe
during the test flight by supplying the aircrew with "Dixie
cups" also known as oxygen masks, parachutes and survival
vests for each flight.
The team loads the equipment before takeoff and inspects the
life protection equipment for damage after each flight.
"These pilots fly these planes faster and harder than
they'll be flown in their lifetime," Mr. Reid said.
Colonel Heck said for many people, the only thing they've heard
from the squadron is a sonic boom. He said the sonic boom is
the most dangerous part of the test flight for the F-15 because
pilots can't eject at those speeds.
"We do it at about 40,000 feet and only do it if we have
to," Colonel Heck said.
No matter how dangerous the sonic boom is, it is a required
part of the flight test.
Along with their flight test responsibilities, the squadron
also picks up and delivers aircraft including battle damaged
aircraft to locations where they are needed or can be repaired.
The squadron is also considered the subject matter experts
for the plane's systems and many times their phone rings when
Airmen around the world are having mechanical malfunctions and
need to know how to fly or land safely.
Source: USAF Robins AFB Press Release by Amanda Creel