NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
The 106 degree Fahrenheit heat beats down on the Nellis Air Force Base flightline where crew chiefs work tirelessly to complete the mission of Red Flag 19-3.
Out of the more than 20 units from across the U.S. Armed Forces and Australian Air Force that attended the exercise, the crew chiefs from the 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit worked to ensure that eight of the 1st Fighter Wing’s F-22 Raptors were prepared to complete their mission.
“We are essentially flight line maintainers, we deal with the aircraft on a day-to-day basis,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Lenny Buscemi, 94th AMU dedicated crew chief. “As a crew chief, I’ll do everything from the engines to hydraulic systems, pneumatic and pneudraulics components. If it's not a weapons system or it's not a computer system we will deal with it.”
Buscemi first joined the 94th AMU March 24, 2013, and has been working as a crew chief with the F-22 , tail number 05-4085 “8-5” ever since.
“I never knew anything about aircraft [before joining the Air Force],” Buscemi said. “I couldn't even tell you the first thing about an F-22; I didn't even know what one looked like.”
While “8-5” is the aircraft with his name on it, he still works on other aircraft, helping maintain as many combat-ready aircraft as possible, explained Buscemi.
According to Buscemi, before the pilot can even step into the aircraft, he does a walk-around inspection of the entire aircraft and weapons systems ensuring the safety equipment is removed. He’ll then prepare the aircraft for the pilot, run operations check and then launch the aircraft.
“We are willing to put our name on that dotted line saying this aircraft is combat mission-ready and it's something that we all take that very seriously,” Buscemi said.
Whether Buscemi is at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, in a deployed environment or even participating at a large scale exercise such as Red Flag, his mission stays the same - ensure combat-ready F-22s.
“It's very much the same as home station, but with a lot higher stakes--so it's not combat, but it's the closest thing,” said Lt. Col. David Delmage, 94th Fighter Squadron F-22 “8-5” pilot. “If we don't get that particular jet or formation to the fight on time, then the entire mission may fall apart because we didn't have F-22s at the right spot at the right time to do our job of shaping air dominance.”
While Red Flag is intended as an air-to-air combat exercise, it also provides a bonding experience for the participants.
“You learn a lot about your team [at Red Flag],” said Buscemi. “You rely on the people you work with here. You'll be tired, you’ll be exhausted, you might have things going on at home but the people you are with here are definitely your biggest strength.”
For the F-22 to properly fly and complete its mission, it is vital that the crew chiefs work together with their team and pilot to ensure the aircraft is combat-ready before takeoff.
“There is someone's family member in that seat,” Buscemi said. “Not only do we want that aircraft to go out there and do its mission but to have that family member return home safely.”
According to Buscemi, there is a mutual trust between the pilots and the crew chief. They both must work together and trust that they will do their jobs well.
“When it comes to the day of execution it becomes a team sport,” Delmage said. “[Crew chiefs] need to be motivated and knowledgeable and [Buscemi] is both of those to an extreme. He's the guy you want, waiting at the jet when you show up.”
Buscemi explained that while the 12-hour shifts can be long, he still finds being a crew chief very fulfilling and has learned a lot about the F-22.
“I now know the [aircraft] very well, but no one knows everything. The [F-22] is a very dynamic creature,” Buscemi said. “There is so much to know but I’ll keep learning. Because at the end of the day, there will always be something to learn.”