by Airman 1st Class Louis Velasco
477th Fighter Group Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
5/12/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Jeff
Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmy Johnson and Danica Patrick are some
of the most recognizable names in the world of NASCAR - even among the
most casual sports fans. Drivers are front and center after a win, and
deservedly so. The critical work the pit crew performs, however, is
sometimes lost in the shuffle. A vehicle can stop for refueling, new
tires, repairs or simple mechanical adjustments, to name a few, and be
back in the race in minutes if not seconds. That speed can mean the
difference between winning and losing the race.
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson has its own version of a high-speed pit crew - we call them aircraft maintainers.
"It's about efficiency," said Lt. Col. Robert Churchill, F-22 pilot from
the 477th Fighter Group, "Hot-pitting is the quickest way to get the
most sorties and is the key to mission combat capability."
During traditional refueling, the jet is recovered, the engines powered
off, and maintainers must perform a detailed thru-flight inspection.
This includes taking an oil sample and downloading the jets computer
error codes to help with maintenance troubleshooting and repair. Of
course, the jet also gets fuel. This thru-flight process, which is
necessary before the jet flies again, is why hot-pitting saves so much
time. Because both engines are not shut down, the jet can simply be
refueled and sent back on its mission, reducing down time by two to
three hours per operation.
During the first weekend of May, reservists from the 477th Fighter
Group, a total force integration partner with the 3rd Wing, were part of
that same pit-stop concept, refueling F-22 Raptors on the go and
allowing pilots from the 302nd Fighter Squadron to return to their
mission with minimal delay.
Technical Sgt. Gerald Ingram, a crew chief assigned to the 477th
Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, has participated in hot pitting on
multiple airframes including the F-22 Raptor, the F-16 Fighting Falcon
and the F-15 Eagle, throughout his 11-year Air Force career. Ingram said
while hot pitting is a basic concept, "refueling on the go provides a
faster turn-around for aircraft capabilities and is critical to
returning the aircraft to its mission."
The 477th aircraft maintainers have a unique role in the Total Force
Enterprise with the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. The full time
Air Reserve Technicians are working side by side throughout the week
with their active duty counterparts, assuring that the mission needs are
met for the 90th, 525th, and the 302nd Fighter Squadron pilots.
More than an exercise in quick response, hot pitting helps members get
an up-close view of each other in action, one they might not get
"Hot-pitting gives the pilot a chance to interact with the crew chief'"
Churchill said. "When we get out there to the jet, it's all business.
Sitting in the jet getting fuel gives us a chance to see how our
maintenance crews are doing."
Because traditional refueling occurs after the aircraft has been
recovered and is safed by a crew chief, the risk of an accident or
damage to the aircraft due to refueling operations is minimal. The
chance to hot-pit refuel gives maintainers more experience working
around a running aircraft, said Ingram.
Home station is not the only location where this important mission
training comes into play. As the F-22 Raptor serves in foreign bases,
knowing how to quickly and safely hot pit is equally important in a
As in most time-sensitive operations, there are dangers associated with
hot pits. Being in close proximity to a running jet engine is risky, so
the pilot will shut down his or her left engine - to limit any injuries
resulting from an accident. Because this engine shuts down and restarts,
the aircraft needs one last check before it is set to return to the
"It's like a modified end-of-runway inspection, but quicker. Just one
last check to make sure everything is okay," explains Ingram. Despite
all the things crew chiefs need to be aware of, a typical hot-pit refuel
will only take 10-12 minutes if the aircraft are staggered correctly.
Waiting in line can halt even the fastest service, which is why aircraft
returning to base communicate refuel orders with the Maintenance
Operations Center; this necessary step limits any bottlenecking that may
occur should too many jets be waiting for fuel at the same time.
"When pilots do a forward to base check, we communicate with ground
control and tower and relay information to ground maintenance'" said
Master Sgt. Chris Burgan, MOC superintendent. "If there's a problem on
the ground, we can catch it. This keeps the pit rolling."
It isn't hard to imagine crew chiefs may wish they could hang out with
rock-star race car drivers and pit-crews. It might be a little harder to
say whether or not NASCAR pit crew members wish they were refueling a
5th generation fighter jet. Despite their differences though, they both
share the same goal and, when done right, they're off to the races.