MIGHTY CULTURE

Here's why a Crew Chief is a pilot's 'best friend'

Senior Airman Savannah Waters

On a flight line shrouded in a constant haze and tortured by Thailand's relentless sun, the sounds of jet engines and jungle birds fill the ears of Staff Sgt. Travis Davis, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief; a best friend to any 35th Fighter Squadron pilot who puts their trust in crew chiefs like Davis every time they fly.

While executing U.S. Indo-Pacific Command objectives and U.S. Pacific Air Forces priorities at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Davis and 114 other maintainers from the 8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, are operating and will redeploy 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons loaded with full-scale-heavy-weight-munitions supporting exercise Cobra Gold 2019. Cobra Gold is a Thai-U.S. co-sponsored exercise that promotes regional partnerships to advance security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region and is one of the longest-running international exercises.


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Staff Sgt. Travis Davis, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, inspects an F-16 brake during exercise Cobra Gold 2019 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 19, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Savannah L. Waters)

Davis and other maintainers quickly adapted to operating in a hot and humid environment alongside their Royal Thai Air Force partners, and as the sun shines, they're reminded of the winter conditions of home-station.

"I like my job, but there are people who don't necessarily enjoy it due to extreme cold or hot weather conditions," Davis said. "Especially when we are busy and breaks are hard to come by, but the mission comes first."

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Davis advises fellow crew chiefs in maintaining, servicing and inspecting the F-16s. His inspector role ensures 8th AMXS Airmen are equipped with the proper tools and skill sets to get the job done as safely and efficiently as possible, while keeping those who fly the jets reassured that they're sitting in a well taken care of and lethal jet.

"As a crew chief, you need to keep your head on a swivel, and make sure to pay attention to what you're doing," Davis said. "You have someone else's life in your hands, and mistakes can quickly escalate into a life or death situation. We can always replace parts here and there, but we can't replace a person."

Staff Sgt. Travis Davis, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, gives the 35th Fighter Squadron's "Push It Up!" sign during exercise Cobra Gold 2019 at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Feb. 19, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Savannah L. Waters)

Consistency is very important, Davis said, and a mistake on a crew chief's part creates the potential for loss, whether it's a $35 million aircraft or a precious life.

With no U.S. aircraft maintenance support, Davis and other 8th AMXS maintainers learned to operate in conditions that are similar to a bare base during Cobra Gold 19. Weapons, avionics, and other maintenance specialists assisted crew chiefs in launching aircraft by aiding as a "B man," and egress technicians supplemented crash and recovery teams to build F-16 tires.

Regular maintenance, inspections, refueling, launch and recovery is a lot of work, said Davis, but combining hands-on efforts across the 8th MXG enabled smoother transitions throughout the exercise.

"Cross utilization of maintainers of different (Air Force specialty codes) and roles is a true embodiment of maintainers making the mission happen," said Capt. Su Johnson, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. Without (the) Wolf Pack maintainers' pride and aggressive attitude to succeed, exercise Cobra Gold would not have been successful."

Davis has averaged about 50 work hours a week, overseeing maintenance operations and inspections so pilots are able to conduct training without delay or complications.

"I'm thankful for the many opportunities this career has given me the last 10 years," Davis said. "It makes you really appreciate the job, even on the tougher days. During deployments and exercises such as Cobra Gold, you really get to see the bigger picture, and how your work contributes to and impacts the mission."