MCCHORD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. & When Turkey’s C-130H airplane broke down just before the 2007 Air Mobility Command Rodeo competition began, American Airmen banded together to make the impossible happen. When all was said and done, a maintenance job that normally takes weeks was performed in five days, all in the spirit of Rodeo competition.
Trouble began for the Turkish team immediately upon arrival at McChord Air Force Base. Noticing some loose metal shavings during the post flight inspection, Turkish maintainers troubleshot their jet. What they found was devastating. One of the largest parts of the engine, the reduction gear box, was broken. Since the gear box is the mechanism that turns the propellers, the team was grounded, or so they thought.
Enter Capt. Eric Peterson, a pilot from the 10th Airlift Squadron here and one of the Turkish team’s hosts. “Without him, we would not be flying in the competition,” said Capt. Umit Saydan, a navigator with the Turkish team.
Since McChord is a C-17 Globemaster III base, there aren’t any C-130 parts in stock. So Captain Peterson immediately went to work, trying to find a new reduction gear box, all the necessary ancillary parts and tools needed for the job.
“We made miracles happen,” he said.
Before the parts could be procured, funding had to be worked out. Captain Peterson began sorting through all the red tape and wasn’t making much progress. However, that was soon to change when Rodeo’s commander arrived on the ground.
“General (Kip) Self said ‘Let’s make this happen.’ At 9 a.m. Friday, we weren’t one step away from ground zero. By 1:00 in the afternoon, the problem had a solution. By the next afternoon, we had all the major parts,” Captain Peterson said.
“The Turks are great competitors,” General Self said. “They bring enthusiasm and skill to the competitive part of Rodeo. They are also important to the camaraderie that is synonymous with Rodeo. We weren’t going to let engine problems keep them from being a part of this special event.”
After working with the local judge advocate office to find a legal way through the red tape, funding finally fell in place. However, Captain Peterson still had to find the parts and get them to McChord as quickly as possible– opening day of the competition was only two days away, and the clock was ticking.
Captain Peterson worked with McChord’s 62nd Logistics Readiness Squadron and finally found a new gear box. But there was a slight problem & the enormous part was in Reno, Nev., more than 700 miles from McChord.
“We generated a local sortie heading out the next morning to pick up the gear box in Reno, and then FedExed the other parts from all over the country,” Captain Peterson said.
However, another problem quickly became apparent. Without proper tools, aircraft parts serve as little more than very expensive paper weights: The C-17 sent to pick up the gear box would have to make a stop in Boise, Idaho, to grab the proper tools before heading back to McChord.
“We went beyond what was normal to get the problem solved. Taking our local training flight to pick up parts and tools for another country just so they can compete, it’s an amazing thing,” Captain Peterson said.
While all this was going on, the Turkish team was starting to feel cursed.
Every international team is allowed a familiarization flight in the days leading up to the competition. Since Turkey’s airplane was grounded, the team was offered a ride with a local C-17 crew. But that also fell through– again owing to maintenance issues.
“We thought we needed a medicine man,'” Captain Saydan joked.
The Turkish aircrew finally got their familiarization flight when their plane was fixed a day before Rodeo kicked off. Much of this was thanks to the efforts of Tech. Sgt. Tre Woodward, who was one of two maintenance liaisons from the 446th Airlift Wing who worked grueling hours with the Turkish team to replace the gear box.
“I’ve got new respect for these guys,” Sergeant Woodward said. “They’re hard workers & persistent and professional.”
It was also apparent that the bond forged between the maintainers went beyond the professional level.
“They’ve treated me like family,” he said. “We eat every meal together & no one ever eats alone. We’ve exchanged emails, and we plan to stay in contact when the competition is over.”