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Navy plane captains get jets flying to the danger zone

If you've watched Top Gun, you probably enjoyed the dogfight scenes. Meanwhile, the ladies in the audience fiercely debated over who was more handsome, Maverick or Iceman (though the mustache fans out there might opt for a dark-horse candidate in Goose). But Top Gun, like many military aviation films, left out a crucial person who's response for getting those jets ready to fly into the danger zone and blast MiGs out of the sky.


Lance Cpl. Nicholas Levins, an F/A-18 aircraft mechanic with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 and an Issaquah, Wash., native, poses inside of an intake of an F/A-18 Hornet aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

That person is the plane captain. According to a United States Navy release, he or she is responsible for making sure that a plane is fit to fly. This includes performing daily checks on all aircraft and additional checks made before and after each flight. Some of the things a plane captain looks for include cracks on the plane, missing fasteners (which could allow foreign objects to damage an engine), emergency oxygen levels, and canopy cleanliness.

One of the jobs a plane captain has is making sure the canopy is absolutely spotless.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Dave Hites)

Here's the kicker: The people responsible for this are some of the newest, youngest personnel in the unit. We're talking men and women who are anywhere from 19 to 21 years of age. They spend up to six months learning everything necessary to be responsible for a high-performance fighter. A Marine Corps release notes that these people spend as much as 14 hours per day keeping a jet ready. Oh, and they don't get any overtime pay or comp time.

Plane captains assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 113 carry intake screens on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Nicolas C. Lopez)

The real challenge is to keep from becoming complacent. After all, one mishap could cost the United States a multi-million dollar jet and the life of the pilot (or the crew). But the plane captains, like the pilots, get their name on the jet.

Learn more about what plane captains do in this Korean War-era film from the United States Navy.

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