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U-2 maintainers boast streaking hot record

by Tech. Sgt. Andrew Leonhard
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

3/27/2006 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- In the world of sports, there have been some incredible streaks. Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 consecutive major league baseball games. Lance Armstrong was victorious in seven Tour de France races. Football great Johnny Unitas threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games.

But none of these streaks compare to the impact that one unit is having on the war on terrorism. The 99th Aircraft Maintenance Unit is working on a streak of more than 155 consecutive launches without a maintenance-related cancel to meet the air tasking order for the U-2 "Dragon Lady." What this means is commanders on the ground are getting the most accurate information they need to plan and operate.

“The maintenance crews know the importance to getting the aircraft off the ground,” said Master Sgt. Craig VanValkenburgh, 99th AMU production supervisor. “Day in and day out, they perform, and when in a pinch, it’s their awesome teamwork that gets the job done.”

One member of that team is Staff Sgt. Matthew Kelly. He knows every rotation runs into problems, such as learning the way things get done here and what is expected of each person.

“But when you have a great team of crew chiefs, specialists and contractors who are as skilled and dedicated as the ones I work with every day, everything seems to run smooth without a hitch,” he said. “After all the hard work that we put in and knowing the importance of each mission the U-2 flies, that’s when you really start to appreciate what you do.”

Another U-2 crew chief who appreciates the dedication of the entire team also knows the jet favors the types of mission it's flying here.

“The planes are truly better suited for these longer missions, than the short touch and goes and around the flagpole flights they do back at home,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan Stillwell, who’s been at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., with the program for seven and a half years.

“Mostly we have minor things that have to be done to the aircraft after a mission. Such as intake inspections, oil sampling, tire inspection and pulling panels to do a few other required checks,” he said.

Foreign object damage is always an issue, Sergeant Stillwell said, and the entire team works together to make sure the area is spotless.

The 99th AMU team has had a remarkable mission success rate since the end of 2005. Their supervision and operations section that plans out the mission schedule and day-to-day tasks, are second to none, he said.

They keep completing their maintenance mission and provide a ready-to-fly aircraft to the pilots, each person knowing that what they are doing is more than just about some streak. It’s about “One Team, One Fight.”

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