MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The 41st Helicopter Maintenance Unit is responsible for Moody’s HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter fleet, an airframe that has been flown by the Air Force since 1991.
In that 25-year span thousands of Airmen have piloted and maintained the aircraft and many HMUs around the world employ retired Pave Hawk and UH-60 Black Hawk pilots as the final authority on their Pave Hawks flight readiness. The 41st is one of those HMUs.
“We’re the last ones that say it’s good for flight,” said retired U.S. Air Force Major, Robert Walker, 41st HMU contractor maintenance pilot. “If it’s not ready we do not release the aircraft. We never sacrifice safety, no matter how bad they need [the aircraft]. We can’t give them something that we know is going to break, in good conscience.”
Knowing the Pave Hawk inside and out qualifies these contractors to perform functional check flights following heavy maintenance, but they also help the HMU by performing checks that would take Airmen away from their primary job.
“It comes with experience,” added retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3, James Turnage Sr., 41st HMU contractor maintenance pilot. “That’s how we save the Air Force time and money. When we test the aircraft and move the flight control we can feel when it’s not right and more than likely, tell you why it’s not right too.”
Though technology has changed since they were active-duty pilots and maintainers, their love for the mission has not. They have worked around the world helping others and immersed in rescue culture.
“Whether at the 33d, 66th or 41st,” said Turnage. “No matter where you go, rescue culture, is the culture. It’s all about helping people and that’s the way it is in every place I’ve been.
“Our mission as civilians is to fly, fix the aircraft, teach the Airmen how to fix their aircraft and ensure the quality,” added Turnage. “I’ll be 64 years old in June and I’ve worked on and flown [helicopters] consistently since I joined at 17 years old. I’m flying maintenance and I enjoy figuring out how to fix a helicopter.”
Their experience and knowledge has proven to be invaluable to Airmen at the 41st HMU. In addition to their knowledge of Pave Hawk flying and maintenance, they hope to impart the love they have for flying to newer generations of Airmen.
“They see that I’m 900 years old and I’m still doing this so they know they could still be doing this when they’re my age,” said Turnage. “I want them to know they can do this, but they’ve got to follow their technical order and they’ve got to have a good attitude.
“The motto says it all,” added Walker. “These things we do, that others may live. They take it seriously, but I hope the biggest thing they get from us is that things are done a specific way for a specific reason, and you don’t give a little to get a little in this game. It has to be done correctly and you have to have motivation to keep going even when things aren’t going right.”