CHERRY POINT, N.C. - --
Maintaining safety standards is a continuous and ongoing process at every step of the an aircraft‘s flying evolution. Plane captains are among the many individuals who ensure aircraft meet operational safety requirements and are capable of completing their tasked-out missions.
A plane captain is responsible for conducting a final examination of the aircraft and guiding the pilots toward the runway. Plane captains possess extensive knowledge of their designated aircraft and can determine if there are any last minute discrepancies that should ground the aircraft. Constant communication is maintained between the plane captains and the aircraft crew through a variety of complex hand and arm signals.
The Marines of Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 are especially diligent in this process.
“Plane captains are the last people to visually examine an aircraft before it is sent on its way,” explained Staff Sgt. Paul Coats, plane captain and power line mechanic senior non-commissioned officer in charge with VMAT-203. “ They are the eyes of the pilot outside of the aircraft. Sometimes a pilot cannot determine if there are leaks or other discrepancies from inside the flight deck. The plane captains can spot an issue and ensure the aircraft is fully operational for its mission.”
According to Cpl. Austin Schmidt, who is a plane captain and fixed-wing aircraft mechanic with the squadron, one plane captain is designated to each aircraft that is being prepared for a mission. The plane captain is knowledgeable on all safety procedures and can respond in case of an emergency before the aircraft takes off.
Plane captains maintain a vital role in the safety of crew and aircraft across the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. All aircraft within 2nd MAW employ plane captains or certified personnel that hold a similar billet. VMAT-203 has more than 55 certified plane captains that contribute to their squadrons mission readiness, said Coats.
"It can take up to an average of five months to become a certified plane captain,” said Schmidt. “We have to be capable of doing things like directing aircraft on the flight line, fueling aircraft and full pre-flight inspections. It is a job that requires a lot of attention to detail and situational awareness. Plane captains hold great responsibility as they have the lives of the crew in their hands by being the last people to deem an aircraft safe to fly.”