KEEPING THE BIRD IN THE SKY
429 squadron’s maintenance crews fix military’s largest plane
Cpl. Terry Allan, an avionics systems technician with 429 Transport Squadron, secures a panel on the belly of a CC- 177 Globemaster III air transport in a hangar at CFB Trenton. It’s the largest aircraft in the Canadian military, with at least one of the five usually undergoing maintenance at a given time.
CFB TRENTON — In the continuing task of keeping Canada’s heavy- lift aircraft flying, the maintainers of 429 Transport Squadron do plenty of heavy lifting of their own.
They’re responsible for the maintenance of five Boeing CC- 177 Globemaster IIIs, the largest transport plane in the Canadian Armed Forces.
The jets – flown by crews of the same squadron – are in constant use. Canada’s five are among 275 in service globally.
The Globemasters are giants: 53 m long, nearly 17 m tall and a wingspan of almost 52 m.
Crews of 429 Squadron fly troops, vehicles and supplies around the world. The aircraft can carry more than 72,000 kg ( 160,000 lbs).
The oldest of the local group arrived in 2007; on Oct. 12 it logged its 10,000th hour in the air.
It means lots of time in the shop.
“We fly typically around two aircraft at a time on missions around the world,” said Maj. Kirri Lean, the unit’s senior aircraft maintenance engineering officer.
“The pace here at the squadron can get fairly intense at times,” she said. “You need to want to work here.
“It takes a certain attitude more than aptitude.”
Lean supervises a team of 131 people who toil in, on and around the jets. They’re busy enough that discussions about future staffing are underway.
“The day flies by,” said Master Cpl. Keven Thiffault, an avionics technician.
“Whenever happens, we’re always the first ones to deploy,” he said. Using humanitarian- relief missions as an example, he said, “You see the impact right away.”
“The unit’s great,” said Cpl. Rory Thompson of Oakville, Ont. “The people we work with are amazing.”
“I grew up in an aviation family,” he said. Both his father and grandfather were civilian pilots; his mother was a customer service representative for Air Canada.
He said he tends not to think of the jet’s size when he’s working on small parts.
“But when you’re up there,” he said, referring to the tail, “looking at the ground from 50 feet up, it’s like, ‘ OK, this thing’s big.’”
“It’s my type of plane,” said Aviator Wayne Tsao of Marple, B. C. Still a newcomer, he’s learning by doing.
“I like the challenge.
“I like turbine engines for sure,” he said, standing next to one that had been damaged when a goose was sucked into it, damaging nearly every blade.
Tsao said he likes the teamwork involved in the work and is eager to learn more and advance to a technician job, especially missions involving travel. The maintainers travel with the planes.
Cpl. Cindy Hannah’s been with the squadron for three years.
“It’s labour- intensive,” said the aviation technician. “I do a very physical job... dirty, sweaty.
“The job is hard but the benefits make it worthwhile.”
Hannah said the squadron “has the biggest, most beautiful plane. It’s one of our newest planes so everything in it is technologically advanced, well- designed.
“I’m from Belleville so it made sense to be close to home,” Hannah added.
She said she’s impressed by the plane’s capabilities, from medical evacuations to flying tanks to the other side of the planet.
“For nine months I travelled all over the world,” she said. Missions included those to the Canadian Arctic and Dakar, Senegal.
“How many people can say they’ve been to Greenland three times?” she said.
Not all repairs happen in this base’s cavernous hangars, however.
“For about a third of the year there’s an aircraft that goes down to heavy maintenance,” Lean said. About one Canadian Globemaster per year goes through that process in San Antonio, Texas.
“The aircraft gets completely torn apart and put back together.”
Cpl. Nicholas Bourgon, left, holds a ladder while Cpl. Kim Docherty stands ready to aid Cpl. Ryan Gillingham and Master Cpl. Rory Thompson as they load a life raft into the cargo bay ceiling. In the case of a forced landing on water, the raft can be deployed from the top of the plane.
A CC- 177 Globemaster III looms above maintenance staff in a hangar Wednesday at Canadian Forces Base Trenton. It has a wingspan of nearly 52 m.
Cpl. Cesare Ierullo, left, Aviator Wayne Tsao and Cpl. Jake Kingsberry study technical documents while inspecting a damaged engine. After a goose strike damaged the part, the trio had to determine whether it could be repaired or stored for spare parts.
Cpl. Ryan Gillingham lies in an access tunnel. The cramped tunnel runs nearly the full length of the plane. Some crew compare using the tunnel's mobile platform to riding a luge sled.
Cpl. Jason Kennedy of Trenton's 8 Air Maintenance Squadron toils inside an engine pylon of a CC- 177 Globemaster III engine.