BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
The 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and its expeditionary counterparts’ crew chiefs are responsible for launching every U-2 Dragon Lady sortie across the globe. Before all of this, they must complete U-2 crew chief training at the 372nd Training Squadron Detachment 21.
The detachment, which is attached to the 372nd TRS, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, is located at Beale and is the only Mission Ready Airman (MRA) technical school for U-2s in the Air Force.
“The new guys come straight out of basic and go to Sheppard for a few months where they learn common tasks,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Tapia-Rubio, 372nd TRS Det. 21 U-2 crew chief instructor. “Then they come here and we teach the core tasks of how to work, modify and fix a U-2.”
According to Tapia-Rubio, the MRA course consists of 45 days of instruction and has anywhere from three to six students per class.
“Our job is to teach them everything about the U-2 and how it operates,” said Staff Sgt. Darick Alvarez, 372nd TRS Det. 21 U-2 crew chief instructor. “This includes the hydrazine system, engines, electronics, fuels, and flight controls. We also give them hands on experience with launching and recovering, servicing nitrogen, and performing inspections.”
The unit graduates approximately 30 crew chiefs from the MRA course every year. The course features classroom and hands-on instruction.
“We have two blocks of instruction,” said Tapia-Rubio. “The first block is all classroom instruction, where we teach how components relate and work together to make the jet fly. Block two is specifically all flightline tasks. This means refueling and defueling an aircraft, marshalling an aircraft, parking it, and launching it.”
While all of the classes learn the same things, the instructors are able to highlight what they feel is most important for the new Airmen to learn.
“They need to know how to operate technical orders (TOs) front to back,” said Alvarez. “It is impossible for them to remember every single thing we teach them. The TO has all the information and everything they need to know to operate around the aircraft. The TO changes constantly, so they need to know how to navigate it and look up numbers.”
Tapia-Rubio recently came from the flightline and in addition to teaching the TO he tries to instill confidence.
“Some of the people who come through here have no maintenance knowledge at all,” said Tapia-Rubio. “I try to teach them how to come out of their shell, work together, and maintain a positive attitude. My main goal is to teach them how to be hardworking and humble.”
Since the U-2 maintenance community is so small, there is a good chance the instructors will work with their students in the future. This vested interest means the instructors do their best to develop the students into great future crew chiefs.
“I tell all my students to take pride in the job they do,” said Alvarez. “They are working on a multimillion dollar aircraft. The pilot inside can’t just pull over if something goes wrong, so they better be proud in whatever they are doing.”