KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
From an aircraft maintainer turning on a generator, climbing a stand to fix a prop, or even changing out the hydraulic fluid on an aircraft, the 403rd Maintenance Squadron’s Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight affects every C-130J Super Hercules flown by the 403rd Wing pilots—and they do this without ever touching the aircraft.
They are the ones in charge of preparing, maintaining, and delivering the systems used by the aircraft maintenance personnel who work directly on the C-130Js getting the aircraft ready for flight.
Master Sgt. Tauston Jackson, 403rd MXS AGE production superintendent said, “A good AGE technician is someone who can multi-task and apply different AGE technical fundamentals.” He added that this includes understanding the dynamics of air pressure, electricity, and hydraulic pressure used by AGE systems that they provide to maintenance personnel to service Air Force aircraft.
“From preflight to post-flight, AGE is essential,” said Master Sgt. Tyler Thibault, assistant flight chief of the AGE Flight. “When they do preflight checks they need our generators to run the avionics systems and the engine personnel use our B-5 and B-1 maintenance stands for prop changes.”
Thibault admits that the Air Force chose his career path for him after he was reclassified while on active duty, but he is excited about his career field.
“In AGE, you learn so much you can use in career fields outside the military. It really does set you up for success beyond the Air Force Reserve,” he said.
For Thibault, his Air Force AGE training allowed him to succeed in his current job as a production support lead engineer at Syncom Space Services at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. He’s part of the group building the core stage of the space launch system for the Orion Space Capsule.
“In my civilian job as a contractor for NASA, I never know what space launch system task will be thrown my way, so I have to be ready for the unexpected,” Thibault said.
Anticipating unexpected challenges is a professional work habit that he said he has absorbed over his career.
“Working as an AGE maintainer taught me to expect the best, but plan for the inevitable fact that machinery breaks,” he said. “My AGE maintainer experience allows me to look at the long-term sustainability and upkeep of the NASA projects.”
Thibault also uses that perspective to offer his recommendations based on his supporting technical analysis for projects within the scope of his civilian occupation.
He sees his capabilities as a direct result of his 10 years of AGE knowledge that he gained, and continues to expand in his continuing service to the 403rd MXS’s AGE flight.
“What I love about being in AGE is that I’ve been able to learn so many different aspects about aircraft maintenance and regular maintenance because I’m able to deal with logistics, electronics maintenance, air conditioning, to organizing training,” he said. “I mean, we do everything, so what’s not to like?”
While the 33-year-old Thibault served six years active duty before shifting to the Air Force Reserve, it was a different path for Senior Airman Connor Mason, AGE craftsman who joined the 403rd Wing a year after high school.
The now 24-year-old Mason came to the 403rd Wing with a passion for auto repair.
“I consider myself a gear-head and enjoy tinkering with my vehicles on the weekends. I like learning how stuff works, how to fix it, and make it perform better,” Mason said.
He said his auto mechanic hobby played into the AGE career field because some of the systems use combustion engines that are somewhat similar to auto engines.
Mason demonstrated a level of motivation and competency as a traditional reservist that led to his current Air Reserve Technician position for the 403rd Wing. He said he enjoys his full time responsibilities.
“You must think on your feet, and it helps if you’re hungry to learn,” said Mason. “AGE is a career field where you have to step out of your comfort zone, jump in and get your hands dirty.”
Some of the systems maintained by the flight may seem straight-forward, while other AGE components are more complex. But all of the systems support one or more aircraft maintenance tasks that are critical for maintenance on the aircraft.
One such system includes the universal hydraulic test stands that provide hydraulic fluid to the aircraft to operate aircraft hydraulic systems and components while on the ground to test and verify proper operation. UHT stands also filter hydraulic fluid removing contaminants such as solvents, air, water, and particulates from an aircraft’s hydraulic systems.
Other equipment include the B-5 or B-1 maintenance stands that resemble metal staircases and can be rolled into place around the aircraft. These are used to get within “wrench-reach” to perform maintenance on portions of the aircraft which are above and beyond what can be reached by maintenance personnel from the ground.
While in flight, much of the C-130J’s systems draw energy from their turbine engines to power its electrical needs. But during maintenance checks on the ground, a number of the aircraft’s systems are powered by generators that are supplied and maintained by the AGE flight.
If the weather is hot on the flight line, AGE can make maintenance checks a bit more comfortable with MA-3D or AC-25D air conditioners to pump cool air into the hot spots of an aircraft. This is especially helpful during a long maintenance check in the heat of Keesler Air Force Base’s subtropical climate.
But these are just a few of the systems that the 403rd MXS's AGE Flight strives to maintain in order to keep up the high standards required of their critical support mission, since they know from practical experience just how much of an impact they have on the 403rd Wing fleet maintenance without ever touching the aircraft.
“In an AGE career, a key concept is flexibility.” said Jackson. “You never get bored, because we maintain so many types of different systems. All of the systems we work on support the aircraft maintenance tasks that ensure the 403rd Wing fleet’s mission readiness.”