Military News

Friday, July 17, 2015

Beale maintainers achieve "black-letter" status on Dragon Lady

by Airman Preston L. Cherry
9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

7/17/2015 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, California -- Members of the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assigned to the U-2 Dragon Lady here were recognized for an accomplishment that hasn't happened in 13 years in the aircraft maintenance field here on July 13, 2015.

The achievement, known in the maintenance community as a "black-letter jet," happens when a plane flies with zero discrepancies, even minor flaws such as small cracks, chips or anything that does not risk flight safety. Most aircraft fly with multiple minor discrepancies that pose little to no effect on flight.

The age of the U-2 plays a significant role in making the achievement uncommon.

"This was a 1980 model," said Chief Master Sgt. John Pinksaw, 9th AMXS superintendent. "A 35-year-old airplane scored zero defects. Try to find that on a 35-year-old car."

Maj. Stacey Ferguson, 9th AMXS commander, said the effort takes determination, and because of parts and timing, it's difficult to attain.

"It's like pitching a no-hitter," Pinksaw said. "The pitcher tries to throw a perfect game every time, but the chances of that happening are rare."

Pinksaw said a form used to verify the inspection status of an aircraft receives different red marks by an aircraft inspector, each mark representing a different discrepancy status of the aircraft. If everything is in perfect working order, a single letter initial of the last name of the inspector is marked in black ink.

"When they handed me this form, I almost fell down," Pinksaw said. "I immediately ran over, grabbed the boss and said, 'Look at what the guys did!'"

Staff Sgt. Stefan Watkins-Krukowski, 9th AMXS dedicated crew chief of tail #1067, said the achievement took hard effort and was a great way for the crew to showcase pride in their work.

"We were high-fiving, hugging and all smiles," Watkins-Krukowski said. "There was nothing that was going to bring us down that day."

Although many crew members from the 9th Maintenance Group were associated with the accomplishment, a select few were recognized and awarded for taking the initiative.

Recognized maintenance Airmen:

Tech Sgt. Bruce McClaskey
Staff Sgt. Stefan Watkins-Krukowski
Staff Sgt. Brad Wiebelhaus
Staff Sgt. Jeffery Austin
Senior Airman Alex Pollard
Airman 1st Class Mathew Webb

"I'm just so proud of all of these guys," Ferguson said. "It's no small feat to take care of the Air Force's entire high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fleet. Every day is important, every mission is important, and every story is important. We've got combatant commanders around the world depending on us to do that job right. These guys embody that."

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