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Teamwork essential to safely recovering aircraft

WESTERN EUROPE (April 5, 2011) -- Airman 1st Class Jessica Haig, deployed from the 916th Air Reserve Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., marshals in a KC-135 Stratotanker on April 5. The KC-135 returned from a refueling mission supporting Operation Unified Protector. The 313th AEW supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilian and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides Aerial Refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders.  (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tyler Placie)

WESTERN EUROPE (April 5, 2011) -- Airman 1st Class Jessica Haig, deployed from the 916th Air Reserve Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., marshals in a KC-135 Stratotanker on April 5. The KC-135 returned from a refueling mission supporting Operation Unified Protector. The 313th AEW supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilian and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides Aerial Refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tyler Placie)

WESTERN EUROPE (April 5, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Taurean Singleton, 161st Air Refueling Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, installs a landing gear door lock on the wheel well of a KC-135 Stratotanker on April 5. The door lock ensures the safety of maintenance crews working on the aircraft. The KC-135 returned from a refueling mission supporting Operation Unified Protector. The 313th AEW supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilian and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides Aerial Refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders.  (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tyler Placie)

WESTERN EUROPE (April 5, 2011) -- Staff Sgt. Taurean Singleton, 161st Air Refueling Wing, Arizona Air National Guard, installs a landing gear door lock on the wheel well of a KC-135 Stratotanker on April 5. The door lock ensures the safety of maintenance crews working on the aircraft. The KC-135 returned from a refueling mission supporting Operation Unified Protector. The 313th AEW supports Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led mission in Libya to protect civilian and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The 313th AEW provides Aerial Refueling to U.S. and coalition aircraft with KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Tyler Placie)

WESTERN EUROPE -- Their job is to get planes in the air as quickly as possible, but once a plane is gone, they wait for it to come back.

The more than 130 Airmen who work on ground crews here ensure when an aircraft lands after completing a 10-hour mission over the area of responsibility, it receives the best of care to get it ready to go again.

When a plane is 20 minutes away from landing, a three-man team will be assigned to recover it, said Tech. Sgt. Dan Greenawalt, tanker dispatch lead from the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, Pa.

"We do a PPO; park the aircraft, pin the landing gear so it can't move and oil the engines," said Sergeant Greenawalt.

While the plane is on the ground, safety precautions must also be taken, such as installing grounding wires to dissipate static electricity and putting ground locks on doors so they can't be shut if the planes hydraulic system is turned on.

Sergeant Greenawalt said teamwork on ground crews is essential.

"Everyone has to know their specific duties to get the job done in a timely manner," he said.

Staff Sgt. Trevor Volack, a crew chief from the 141st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., agreed.

"The most important part of the job is establishing the strengths and weaknesses of your team members," he said. "Once you've established what they're good at looking at, it all starts to move in a liquid form."

However, teamwork doesn't take the place of attention to detail, Sergeant Volack added.
"In this situation, it all starts to look monotonous, where you look at a part so many times it appears okay to you when it isn't," he said. "That's why you always want a second pair of eyes out there."

Once the plane is secured, the ground crew communicates with the flight crew to identify any maintenance issues that need to be rectified.

"The airworthiness of the aircraft dictates what will happen next to get that aircraft mission capable again," said Sergeant Greenawalt.