Keeping the Coast Guard in flight

When people hear about the Coast Guard, they may think about boats, helicopters and the crews who drive and fly them in dangerous conditions. Some may envision a rescue swimmer, dangling from a cable, a person operating a boat in 20-foot breaking waves, or a pilot holding a helicopter in a perfect hover while the crew hoists a survivor in hurricane-force winds.

All of those situations and the people who face them are very much a part of the Coast Guard, but there are jobs performed behind the scenes that are of equal importance, but receive less recognition. Crewmembers have responsibilities that extend far beyond the fleeting life and death rescue situations often seen on the news.

One such job is that of the Coast Guard Aviation Maintenance Technician. AMTs are the Coast Guardsmen responsible for keeping the Coast Guard’s fleet of aircraft operational, safe and mission ready.

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AMTs have numerous responsibilities and are critical to daily operations of a Coast Guard air station. AMTs fuel aircraft, take fuel samples, perform inspections to ensure flightworthiness, prepare aircraft for takeoff and taxi aircraft when they land. AMTs also service, maintain, troubleshoot and repair aircraft engines, transmission and airframe systems and are responsible for structural repair and maintenance. They fabricate metal, composite and fiberglass materials.

Student Coast Guard airmen learn the basic and specialized skills required to work on aircraft at Aviation Technical Training Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. All AMTs in the Coast Guard complete an initial five-month course covering basic aircraft-maintenance fundamentals. Throughout the course, students compete for jobs of their preference upon graduation. Toward the end of the course, students indicate their top choices from a list of billets (or jobs) that designate the location and type of airframe they’ll work on based on the student’s rank in the class.

The training center is also the home of eighteen class “C” school courses that offer advanced training. AMTs, along with other aviation personnel from air stations throughout the country, come to ATTC to learn specific aircraft systems. These courses range from one to six weeks and ensure members are properly trained and equipped to do their jobs effectively and safely.

“When we’re not instructing, we’re busy updating our courses to make certain they are as accurate and current as possible,” said Chief Petty Officer Michael McDaniel, AMT and MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter “C” school instructor at ATTC. “We are constantly perusing the latest technical manuals, maintenance procedure cards and technical orders to be on top of the ever-changing maintenance climate of Coast Guard aviation.”141118-G-LS819-004-AMT

AMTs are also expected to specialize in more than one type of plane or helicopter during their career. Throughout the Coast Guard, AMTs work on HC-130 Hercules and HC-144 Ocean Sentry planes, and MH-60 Jayhawk and MH-65 Dolphin helicopters.

“Right now the biggest challenge for AMTs is the diversity of airframes we have in the Coast Guard, said Master Chief Petty Officer Charles Stanicki, leading chief at Air Station Elizabeth City in North Carolina. An AMT might be expected to work on two or three different airframes over the course of their career. Proficiency is a challenge to maintain as members move around at different times.”

All of the AMT maintenance duties are performed in addition to their flight responsibilities where they work as a flight mechanics, aircrewman, flight engineers, loadmasters or other roles depending on what type of airframe they are assigned.

“My job can be divided into two main categories – being a maintainer and being a flyer,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class David Ellis, AMT at Air Station Elizabeth City. “My role as a maintainer involves anything from working on engines, hydraulic systems, rotor systems, landing gear systems to corrosion control. While keeping up with my responsibilities as a maintainer, I’m also required to be basic aircrew qualified, and I am training to be a flight mechanic. This has increased the amount of procedures I am required to know which is critical because someone’s life may depend on me.”

A flight mechanic’s responsibilities include navigation during flight and operation of the hoist, such as lowering and raising rescue swimmers and survivors to and from the helicopter.

Aviation maintenance technicians help keep the Coast Guard in flight“I would highly recommend becoming an AMT if you are a hands-on person who loves to learn and takes pride in your work,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Stalter, an AMT at Air Station Elizabeth City. “The learning process never ends, because there is a vast amount of knowledge to gain from the scope of work we perform. Due to the delicate and precise nature of aviation, AMTs are held to a very high standard of workmanship. We must be willing to strive for excellence and settle for nothing less.”

AMTs may not receive attention when the Coast Guard is portrayed in movies or on television but their role is essential in ensuring the Coast Guard’s fleet of aircraft are ready to perform at a moment’s notice. The skill sets these women and men bring to the service exemplify the Coast Guard’s motto – Semper Paratus, Always Ready.