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Pope Field crew chief jumps careers

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mark Thompson
  • 440th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Most crew chiefs will tell you that they know their aircraft inside and out, but one assigned to Pope Field, N.C., knows the outside of a C-130 Hercules better than most.

As a former Army paratrooper, Tech. Sgt. Michael Santoy, a crew chief with the 440th Maintenance Squadron, jumped out of C-130s while assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group, formerly located at Ft. Bragg, N.C.

"I've now seen the entire C-130 mission from beginning to end," said Santoy, who has also jumped out of C-141 Starlifters, Blackhawks, Chinooks and Hueys over every imaginable terrain. "It's a little bit different compared to when I was jumping out of them. Now I get to land with them."

After about a 10 year break in service, Santoy decided he wanted to serve in the military again, but rather than jump out of aircraft and helicopters he decided on a career a little closer to earth. "After hearing about the career field from a friend who was a crew chief with the 440th, I was sold," said Santoy, whose father was a crew chief on F-4 Phantoms with the Marine Corps.

Assigned to an aircraft, Santoy ensures that his C-130 H2 is ready to fly when needed. To do that, he and other maintenance specialists often spend long hours on the flight line making sure that maintenance and regular inspections are performed on the aircraft. "Crew chiefs are like pit crews," said the Torrance, Calif., native.

"No matter the weather outside, crew chiefs lead the way to make sure our wing is ready for the next mission," said Maj. Stephen Young, AMXS commander. "Hollywood might not be breaking down their doors to make movies about them, but they are surely our stars."

A typical day in the life of a crew chief includes routine maintenance, checking fluid levels, changing tires and brakes, replacing light bulbs and cleaning windows. They also advise on problems related to maintaining, servicing and inspecting aircraft, and they use technical data to diagnose and solve maintenance problems on aircraft systems.

With such a high level of responsibility, crew chiefs are often the first on site and the last to leave the aircraft. "After a mission, the crew usually takes off to do a debrief on their own, but the crew chiefs stay behind and puts the aircraft to bed," said Santoy. Putting a C-130 to bed includes inspecting the entire plane, plugging up all air and exhaust intakes, and generally checking to make sure that there's nothing that's going to prevent the aircraft from flying the following day. "We'll be the first ones back on site in the morning."

A couple of years into his new career, Santoy said he has no regrets. "As a jumpmaster instructor I was able to jump multiple times a day," he said. "I was lucky to never get hurt, but I don't miss it."

Santoy said he has always liked C-130s, whether it was to pick him up in sometimes dangerous parts of the world or to jump out of them. But these days he's quite content to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground.

"When we launch an aircraft that I've worked on, I trust our work enough to climb on board and roll with them," he said. "I like to keep them flying."