Plane captains keep the flightline safe

28 Aug 2009 | Cpl. Elyssa Quesada

As the F/A-18 Hornet comes in on the approach, a Marine is on standby, waiting to catch the jet and guide it in, whether it’s for a hot pit refuel or to park it. That Marine is a plane captain.

Plane captains are the unit’s eyes on the ground, they see everything dealing with the jet during maintenance or a launch.

 “Plane captains are vital to the Marine Corps because they take care of the air crew,” said 1st Lt. Aaron Jirovsky, a pilot with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224. “There are many times where a mission calls for the air crew to be task saturated, they keep us rolling with the basics of a final check.”

“Launching out the jets is the most important part of the job,” said Cpl. Adan Vasquez, a powerline mechanic with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122. “When you are out on the flightline, you are a representative for your section, if your hand and arm signals aren’t nice and crisp, it can reflect (negatively).”

In the routine there are more than 20 possible hand and arm signals the plane captains use, the Naval Aviation Publication  00-80T-113, standardizes the signals through the Navy and the Marine Corps, according to Staff Sgt. Lawrence Chapman, the VMFA(AW)-224 maintenance controller.

“It took me about 3-4 days to learn the hand and arm signals we use on the flightline,” Vasquez said. “The first time I was out there alone I was nervous, I was responsible for a multi-million dollar aircraft.”

Now, it’s been about three years, I feel comfortable and confident enough to continue the responsibility of launching an aircraft,” Vasquez continued.

The signals used can cover any check on the aircraft from folding wings, brake check to stopping all actions in the cockpit or on the ground.

During the final check the Marines go over the aircraft to ensure there is no fire, no fuel leaks and ensure all moving flight control surfaces are secure.

 “The plane captain is the last person to give us the OK and check all the safety of the jet before sending us out,” Jirovsky said. “They are in charge of the safety of the maintenance Marines on the ground, we have to trust they are keeping track of everyone.”

Through a whole launch routine, there are at least three Marines who review an aircraft to ensure it is ready for another flight. The initial check is done by the plane captain; the second check is done by an ordnance Marine to arm any weapons that may be loaded and finally back to the plane captain to launch the aircraft.

 “Once they give the final good to go, I am grateful to know they’ve done a good job,” Jirovsky added.