Chinook Soldiers: teaching through the ranks
By Airman 1st Class Gabrielle Spradling, 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 11, 2016
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Flying through the clouds, knowing this is the moment your crew chief finally completed all of his tasks and is now ready to be signed off as a flight engineer. The moment of true pride and knowledge knowing you pushed and helped him through all the tough, stressful lessons a flight engineer works through.
A CH-47 Chinook helicopter flight instructor knows everything that goes into the jobs of mechanic, crew chief and even flight engineer, because they were once in all of those positions and worked their way through the ranks.
Working schedules, evaluating and guiding crew chiefs through the process of becoming a certified flight engineer is difficult for a flight instructor, especially when they wear a dual hat of standards instructor who is in charge of pushing out the commander's intent and keeping training records current.
"The best part of my job is when somebody gets signed off as a flight engineer, I love that part," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Guy Morgan, Detachment 1 Bravo standards instructor. "It doesn't happen very often. To be able to sign someone off and say 'You are ready,' that's definitely the best part."
The process of becoming a flight instructor, as explained by Morgan, starts with working in maintenance, which does not include any flying, and advancing into Flight Company and working as a crew chief. From there, crew chiefs work and are evaluated until they are signed off as flight engineers, which normally takes around two years. After time and progression, a flight engineer gets the opportunity to become a flight instructor and assess troops in the position of crew chief.
The job of flight instructor involves evaluating crew chiefs and making sure the crew flies safely and cohesively at all times.
"The relationship is very coordinated while we are flying," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ronald Trani, senior instructor pilot. "It's definitely a team effort."
Chinook crews rely on each other for every task and mission. The entire crew depends on the flight instructor to train crew chiefs to the highest standards so that dedicated and talented flight engineers are continually being provided.
"What's the most stressful part?" said Morgan. "It's tough with new people, you're bringing them up from nothing. You're in charge of training and everything. You're nervous because you don't want to mess up. There are certain situations that can get pretty nerve racking just trying to make sure the aircraft is safe and most importantly the people inside are safe, so you're trying to make wise decisions on what you're doing."
Flight instructors must have a strong relationship with the pilots because the pilots need do things that they would not normally do in a flight, such as flipping a switch saying there is a fire in one of the engines, to make sure that the crew chief has proper reactions and knows what to do in all situations.
"It is very coordinated and there's a million percent trust between flight instructors and pilots," said Trani. "If they're uncomfortable with something then I'm uncomfortable with it. The crew relationships are fabricated in trust."
With such a daunting task of teaching and directing the next group of flight engineers to fly alone with pilots and control the back of the aircraft, flight instructors must remember their own process of getting to their current position.
"Sometimes when I'm evaluating crew chiefs I think to myself 'Man was I ever that new? Did I ever do that?'" said Morgan. "You look back and realize that you did all of it. Sometimes it's humbling and other times it's maddening; most of the time though it's a real bonding experience."
Remembering all of the personal experiences and how tough and detailed the job is puts Chinook flight instructors in a unique position to guide crew chiefs in whatever way they learn best.
"These guys really look up to you, because they think you know everything, which you don't," said Morgan.
With the pressure of the entire crew depending on the flight instructors to teach the upcoming flight engineers, the mission is constantly in the forefront of their minds to ensure the crew chiefs know what could be lurking around the corner when they eventually get to fly with the pilots alone as a flight engineer.
"The Chinook mission is ash and trash, beans and bullets, we are everything," said Morgan. "One day we could be inserting infantry or rangers into a hostile environment, but the next day we could be hauling a load of bubble wrap to another forward operating base because that's what they needed that day. We can do VIP and rescue missions. Rescue missions can be done all over the country and the world because we can fly so high, we can hover high, higher than any other helicopter in the Armed Services."
Morgan explained that the diverse mission of the Chinook appears to outsiders as mostly flying and deployments, however the reality is that flying is only a small part when it comes to the flight instructor's job.
"My job isn't just going out and flying, it's planning and maintenance,'" said Morgan. "Planning for the maintenance because these big helicopters require a lot of that, you have to make sure you have a helicopter that can do the mission and everything else. That's the behind the scenes of my job."
However when it comes to flying, the stress piles on for the crew chief. The flight instructor works with the crew chief to see where their head is by changing things up and figuring out how each person works best.
"A younger person may tend to be more receptive to 'hey you messed this up' or 'you need to look out for this' whereas an older person you might have to really explain why am I doing this or what is the purpose of doing it this way, tends to be the standard," said Morgan. "But no matter the age, we try to progress crew chiefs and stress them out to see how they do."
Starting from the bottom of the Chinook ladder as a mechanic and climbing to the top as a flight instructor, members of the Chinook crew know every facet of the aircraft and each other's positions.
"I've been in this company since we've been a Chinook company," said Morgan. "I went from a readiness-level 3 crew chief who flew with a flight instructor all the way up to the top guy. I'm proof anybody can do it. I can't believe I get paid to do this job."
Flight instructors, such as Morgan, put many years into the Chinook and the other crew members. Their efforts groom the next generation of flight engineers, crew chiefs and mechanics.