KEEP­ING THE BIRD IN THE SKY

429 squadron’s main­te­nance crews fix mil­i­tary’s largest plane

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - FRONT PAGE - LUKE HENDRY THE INTELLIGENCER lhendry@ post­media. com

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.”

LUKE HENDRY/ THE INTELLIGENCER

LUKE HENDRY PHO­TOS/ THE INTELLIGENCER

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.

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