On the ground or in the air, crew chiefs are Marine Corps aviation’s go-to personnel for their respective aircraft in the fleet.
The work – maintaining and managing Marine Corps aircraft – is demanding but rewarding, said Sgt. Daniel Fitzgerald, a Clayton native and UH-1Y Huey crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 269.
“It’s a lot of work, with long hours, but it pays off,” said Fitzgerald said.
Some days, crew chiefs are on the ground ensuring the aircraft are in top shape; other days they are in the air operating machine guns and serving as the pilot’s eyes outside of the cockpit.
Inside of a UH-1Y Huey, a pilot’s view outside of the helicopter is limited, said 1st. Lt. Alexandra Gass, a UH-1Y Huey pilot with HMLA-269. Crew chiefs play a vital role in seeking threats and providing cover fire for the UH-1Y Huey and the AH-1W Super Cobra that might accompany it.
“We work as a team,” said Gass. “We know each other and trust each other. We have respect that goes both ways.”
Their experience is valuable. On a recent flight, said 1st Lt. Andrew Duwell, a UH-1Y Huey pilot, the crew chief’s experience exceeded that of the pilots, making his insight indispensable.
“You could combine our knowledge and still not have what he has for the aircraft,” said Duwell. “We have another brain back there to think through a situation and another perspective on anything that can possibly come up that we can rely on.”
Their knowledge stems from a laundry list of schools that provide crew chiefs with the mechanical and tactical knowledge to do what it takes to manage the aircraft, said Fitzgerald, the Clayton native. The two years of schooling include survival, evasion, resistance and escape training as well as water survival and mechanical training.
“They are a wealth of knowledge,” said Duwell.
Their duties might differ from aircraft to aircraft, but each plays a vital part in any crew.
“Marine Corps crew chiefs are all very much the same. It’s just the missions that are different,” Fitzgerald said. “We all work just as hard, and each aircraft is just as demanding.”
The hard work is worthwhile, said Fitzgerald. Crew chiefs acquire a technical skill and can see the big picture of the Marine Corps’ work around the world.
“It’s the greatest job in the Marine Corps,” he added.