41st maintainers reach perfection

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Lauren M. Sprunk
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
When most Airmen on the flightline see aircraft tail number A6773 flying through the sky, they see a typical HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter. Now because of the hard work from the 41st Helicopter Maintenance Unit, they see a distinct mythical unicorn that hasn’t been seen in 10 years.

These Airmen dedicated hundreds of hours of hard work to achieve not one, but three “black letter initials,” a marking of approval on an inspection checklist certifying that the aircraft is not only mission-ready, but it is operationally perfect: zero discrepancies, zero write-ups and zero inspection violations.

“Being a dedicated crew chief of a black letter aircraft is something I will carry with me the rest of my career,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Orwick, 41st HMU dedicated crew chief of aircraft A6773. “A black letter is a big deal and a very rare accomplishment in the maintenance world, especially on aircraft that are 20 plus years old. Being able to get zero discrepancies on an aircraft is an amazing feeling and couldn’t of happened without the work contributed from our whole unit.”

An aircraft is inspected before and after each flight, in addition to scheduled inspections. During a typical inspection, the aircraft’s discrepancies or violations are marked in red and signed with a pencil initial, signifying that the aircraft is outside of tolerable limits and maintenance needs to be performed.

However, in the rare occurrence that zero mistakes or discrepancies are found on the aircraft, the checklist does not receive a red marking and instead of pencil, it is given a black letter initial in .

“[A black letter initial] is extremely rare, every maintenance Airman has heard of it but no one ever thinks they’ll be able to see it happen,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Busque, 41st HMU production superintendent. “Our aircraft have taken a lot of abuse and a lot of flight hours, so it’s pretty rare to see one that doesn’t have a lot of write ups, let alone zero.”

After flying nearly 5,000 flying hours over its 20-year life span, aircraft A6773 received its first black letter initial on July 6, signifying the first the 23d Maintenance Group has seen since 2007.

Multiple 41st HMU shift teams stuck around to witness the black letter signing and to watch as the aircraft took off into the sky for a training mission. To their surprise, the aircraft landed after 3 hours of flying in the same perfect condition it took off in, receiving a second black letter initial in ink.

This achievement could not have happened without the dedication and hard work of the 41st HMU Airmen.

According to Busque, Airmen started to see the possibility of a black letter initial once they were down to six discrepancies on the aircraft. From there, they pushed forward as a team, working around the clock for more than 70 hours to reach their goal.

“From the lowest Airman to the chief, everyone and every section came together to make this happen,” said Busque. “There is not one single person responsible, it was a team effort all around.”

Just as everyone played a role in achieving the black letter, they all reaped the reward as well, gaining pride, morale and bragging rights among other units.

“These Airmen are swelling with pride and that pride is transitioning into being more productive and working harder to strive to be better,” said Yum. “It brings the unit collectively as a whole closer and it’s easier to make the mission happen faster when you have Airmen that have high morale and pride.”

According to Yum, the excellence does not stop with this aircraft. The 41st HMU Airmen are now working to lower the number of discrepancies on all of their aircraft so they can see the “mythical unicorn” yet again.