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Acceptance crew ensures flight safety for Air Force

by Cassandra Locke
Defense Contract Management Agency Public Affairs

10/16/2009 - PRINCE GEORGE, Va. (AFNS) -- Whenever Boeing officials roll a new C-17 Globemaster III off the plant in Long Beach, Calif., Tech. Sgt. Sidney De Leon and his team have to make sure it's ready for the Air Force to fly it.

"The Air Force expects to receive a perfect product, and it is up to us to identify and correct any problems before we accept the aircraft for delivery to the C-17 fleet," said Sergeant De Leon, a C-17 acceptance loadmaster.

The idea is for the crew to recognize those troubles at the plant, fix it, and deliver it to Air Mobility Command officials.

"We inspect every single switch, button, system, etc. Once all that is done, we do engine runs to make sure the engines are up to par," Sergeant De Leon said.

Once they complete all the ground checks, they taxi to the runway to do a reject takeoff to make sure the brakes work. After that, they take off for the very first time.

"Most people would be amazed at the problems a single loose screw can cause. Our job is to fly these airplanes with the understanding that there may be problems encountered while we're airborne," Sergeant De Leon said.

The flight crew usually flies about five hours performing various critical aircraft systems checks in-flight. Some of those include shutting down engines in-flight, dropping the landing gear manually, validating the stall warning system, and whatever else needs to be done to ensure the aircraft is safe. Once the airplane passes all the inspections the pilot and the loadmaster sign a book certifying the airplane is ready to be flown by the Air Force and Boeing C-17 customers.

"It is a very unique job within the military," Sergeant De Leon said. "There are only four of us in the entire Air Force that do this job and I'm one of them."

He said this particular job is considered a special duty assignment and those considered for the position need to be highly qualified as an instructor/evaluator C-17 loadmaster, typically with a minimum of 3,000 flying hours of experience. He said applicants need to be C-17 airdrop qualified and be joint airdrop inspector rated.

"This position gives me another perspective about how the Air Force and the civilian sector are tied together," Sergeant De Leon said. "It takes a team effort to produce and verify the capabilities of the C-17. Once we deliver a new jet, they are immediately being used to transport military troops and cargo worldwide, including wounded Soldiers out of hostile locations to medical facilities at a moment's notice."

Maj. Ed Martin, the DCMA government flight representative and chief of flight operations, serves as the liaison between the government and the contractor. His job is to ensure compliance with Department of Defense directives as well as flying all new C-17's on their initial acceptance flights.

Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Rabalais is Sergeant De Leon's counterpart and contributes to the validation of airworthiness and functionality of C-17 aircraft prior to delivery to AMC and international military customers. The loadmasters function and certify all the systems of the aircraft. They are required to open the cargo ramp/door, troop doors, and manual gear extension retraction in-flight. Additionally, they evaluate contractor's flight training and ground safety programs.

"Attention to detail is the key word in this business," Sergeant De Leon said. "The lives of many people are at stake if we don't do our job well."

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