AL ASAD --
Marines pride themselves on doing their job as safely as possible. The Corps has instituted concepts like operational risk management to help Marines maintain that safety. One squadron has proven they can withstand the test of time and has done their job safely since the birth of their unit.
The Marines of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466 recently passed the 65,000 Class A mishap-free flight hours benchmark.
A Class A mishap is an incident that results in more than $1 million worth of damage or the loss of life.
The streak is one that has gone on since the day HMH-466, the “Wolfpack” was stood up in 1984, according to Lt. Col. Roger McFadden, the HMH-466 commanding officer.
"At every 10,000 hours, the squadron is recognized by the Chief of Naval Operations with a 10,000 increment award,” explained McFadden, a Cle Ellum, Wash., native. “So back in the rear we basically have six plaques for getting over 60,000 hours. And there are very few squadrons who have gotten that high. I don’t know exactly where we stand, but we are probably in the top five all across the Navy and Marine Corps.”
The Wolfpack, who are on their third deployment to Iraq, have flown approximately 10,000 of their flight hours in a combat zone. By the time they return from their current deployment, that number should be more than 12,000, according to McFadden.
McFadden attributes the squadron’s success to the professionalism of the Marines on the flightline and in the cockpit of the CH-53E “Super Stallions” flown by the squadron.
“It’s more of the mindset of the pilots, the maintainers and the aircrew about how they fly their planes, and how they fix their planes,” said McFadden. “As everybody will tell you, they do everything by the book. Numbers show that we’ve always done things by the books. We don’t take shortcuts on maintenance because that causes crashed planes.”
For the Wolfpack, it is not about getting the aircraft fixed rapidly, it is about making sure the job is done right the first time.
“It’s more of ‘Hey were going to do this thing right. It may take us a little longer, and we may not be the fastest at doing stuff, but we’re going to do it safe,'” said McFadden.
That attitude translates into a lot of long days and hard work on the part of the maintenance Marines in the squadron.
“For our aircraft, it’s somewhere in the area of 20 maintenance hours for every flight hour,” explained Staff Sgt. Chris Apedaile, the HMH-466 flightline chief. “So we’re very busy here.
I don’t know exactly how many man hours we’ve worked since we’ve been here, but I imagine its around 20,000 or so by now.”
“We’re basically on a 12 on, 12 off type of shift, but realistically most guys work around 14 hours a day in pursuit of the monster flight goals that we have here,” added Apedaile, a Eustis, Fla., native.
The maintainers know that they have a reputation to uphold. Knowing that they have a record that few can match or beat makes the Marines on the flightline proud, according to Sgt.
Stephen Humphries, an avionics quality assurance technician and aerial observer with the Wolfpack.
“It makes you feel pretty good” said Humphries. “You know all the checks and balances are in place. We know that we have one of the best reputations in the ’53 community. We know that we’re doing everything right, and if something comes up that’s wrong, we have the people that are curious enough to find the solution and work at it until they fix it so we can fly the safest aircraft out here.”
The maintenance Marines of the Wolfpack are excited that their work has made it possible for the squadron to operate as safely as it has, but they are looking forward to extending their streak, according to Humphries.
“Sixty-five thousand is a pretty good benchmark,” said Humphries with a smile. “But we can always turn it up.”