MCAS BEAUFORT, S.C. -- The aircraft maintainers of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 wait patiently on the flightline for the return of the culmination of all of their effort.
Silver Eagle 206, a grey sky colored F/A-18 is completing its 9,000th hour of flight in the skies above the Lowcountry before landing back aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Nov. 13.
“Many of these aircraft rolled off the line in 1985,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Phares, commanding officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115. “Many of the maintainers that work on them were not even born yet.
“They are still flying and are more lethal than the day they rolled off the line with advanced munitions and systems,” continued Phares, a native of Cirlceville, W.Va. “The aircraft is still going strong and we expect it to see 10,000 hours.”
For every one hour that Silver Eagles 206 flew, 10 hours of meticulous maintenance was performed. This includes numerous upgrades and overhauls to ensure the aircraft was capable of flying to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft and attack and destroy surface targets.
“There is a lot of maintenance performed throughout the maintenance levels to keep it flying,” Chief Warrant Officer Ramon Vasquez, the Silver Eagle’s maintenance material control officer. “At our maintenance level we ensure that the aircraft stay in tip to shape ready to complete the mission at hand.”
According to Phares, VMFA-115 operates some the oldest F/A-18s on MCAS Beaufort and the entire Marine Corps.
“We look left and right and we see younger aircraft, but we are not going to use that as an excuse,” said Phares. “We are going to do our best to outfly our peers and have better readiness rates and train our pilots to the best of our ability.
“When we go out to our aircraft we expect each one of them to launch and be ready to complete the day’s mission.”
In addition to the squadron’s numerous inspections, naval aviation standards require numerous inspections to ensure flight readiness of all aircraft.
“Older aircraft are put through even more inspections, which increases the burden on our squadron’s maintainers to keep these aircraft ready,” Phares added. “The Marines manage to accomplish this task without the squadron losing any flight hours and is a testament to all the maintenance Marines in our squadron.”
“Each work center is responsible for inspecting their section of the aircraft,” said Sgt. Christopher Harrison, a squadron maintenance controller. “An example would be the ordnance Marines inspecting any part of the aircraft that releases munitions.”
The hard work of the squadron’s maintainers allows the F/A-18 Hornet to complete its many tactical applications including: air to air and air to ground target engagement and conducting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to safeguard ground forces.
“It doesn’t matter if the aircraft is old or brand new, we have the same job and responsibility,” Harrison said. “Whether it has one flight hour or 10,000 the same amount of pride goes into the maintenance that is performed by the Marines.
“A lot of pride comes from the generations of Marines who came before us, who wanted to take care of their aircraft,” Harrison continued. “You want to see it fly and come back having completed its mission successfully.”
Maintainers are responsible for the squadron maintaining the highest state of readiness to deploy forward.
“These Marines do an outstanding job of providing a great quality of work day in and day out,” Vasquez said. “They manage complete these numerous inspections in a timely fashion to allow the squadron to continue with the mission.”
As much as the maintainers are responsible for the aircraft’s readiness, aviators entrust the mission and their lives to the maintainers’ proper and skilled maintenance.
“I have complete faith in every Marine that I have worked with or trained with in this squadron that these aircraft are safe and ready for flight,” said Harrison. “I can say with an absolute guarantee, ‘Yes sir, this plane is ready to fly.’”
“I cannot see inside the panels and I am not trained to work on the internal components of this aircraft,” said Phares. “Our maintainers are trained to look at these systems and know whether they are [functioning] or [nonfunctioning].
“Our lives are in their capable hands everyday and they never fail us.”
A well known motto in the Marine Corps, “Doing more with less” has definitely played a large role in maintenance at the Silver Eagles’ hangar.
“The Marine Corps has never had the latest and greatest equipment,” said Phares. “Our equipment may be worn out, but it is the people that allow us to accomplish the mission at hand and they are what make the difference.
“Our maintainers on the flightline take some of the oldest F/A-18s in the inventory and enable us to do better than anyone else is doing,” Phares continued. “Their work keeps us in the highest state of readiness to deploy forward.”