MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Instead of the usual roar of F-16 Fighting Falcons preparing for another flight here, a soft, warm breeze skirting across the flightline carried the sound of tools clanking against metal. In the depths of a hangar, an Air Force crew chief worked diligently to solve the most recent maintenance challenge placed in his path.
Staff Sgt. Beau Blackburn, a dedicated crew chief for the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, developed a love for maintenance as a teenager growing up in Iona, Idaho. From working on cars to maintaining multimillion-dollar aircraft, his skills transferred easily to his Air Force career.
“I just wanted to get my hands dirty,” Blackburn said. “I enjoyed working on cars before joining the military, so I figured I would see what working on airplanes was all about. I like the idea of discovering something is broken and then doing what I have to in order to fix it.”
Dedicated crew chiefs are assigned to a single jet. At Misawa Air Base they perform a vital role in the protection of the U.S. and its allies by maintaining the fleet of F-16s tasked to suppress enemy air defenses in the Pacific Air Forces area of responsibility. In this capacity, Misawa’s F-16s are the first to enter a combat theater to locate all surface-to-air missile threats and clear a path for other military forces.
The seven-year veteran is responsible for keeping the aircraft he’s assigned to in the best shape at all times. He performs daily pre- and post-flight checks, fluid and intake inspections, and aircraft marshaling.
“Crew chiefs are the core maintainers who ensure the jets fly,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Walker, a 35th Maintenance Squadron phase inspection team member. “We ensure every component and system is 100 percent and that the aircraft is airworthy and capable of completing the flying mission with the support of specialists and weapons crews.”
The role of crew chief calls to individuals who embrace a problem-solving mindset and commit to the continual work required of them.
“I love launching and recovering aircraft, and turning wrenches,” Blackburn said. “I leave work feeling like I earned my paycheck.”
Blackburn translates this mindset to his work every day with the goal of providing a safe environment for pilots and his fellow crew chiefs.
“I take pride in knowing that I’ve done everything I can to ensure that pilot’s safety,” he said.
Hard work is another thing Blackburn takes pride in, and he said he instills his work ethic in his Airmen. Not only does he highlight a strong work ethic as an important personal attribute, but he also strives to create a positive atmosphere.
“Having a good attitude is enough to raise someone’s morale,” he said. “Although, a bad attitude is just as contagious; it will go from person-to-person and wear on them. If you talk about how much you hate the job, young Airmen aren’t going to know anything other than that mindset. They look up to you, so I aim to approach situations with a positive mindset.”
Blackburn, as well as any other maintenance Airman, knows that shifts lasting up to 15 hours wear on a person, but he understands how working together with his fellow maintainers helps ease the stress of the job.
“This career is tiring, but there are times we have to throttle forward and keep going,” he said. “It makes the job and life easier if everyone can come together.”
Motivated by family
Although Blackburn’s fellow Airmen help create a positive work environment, he says his family is the greatest motivator for him to do his best every day. He has a wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 4, who have supported him throughout his military career.
“Anytime an aircraft takes off my daughters say that daddy’s jets are flying,” Blackburn said, smiling. “My oldest daughter knows I fix aircraft, so the other day she said, ‘I really hope lots of jets break today so you can have fun at work!’ I thanked her, but said, ‘I sure hoped lots of jets didn’t break.’”
It can be a challenge to balance many different aspects of life, he said.
“It’s difficult because the Air Force wants you to go to work, pass a physical fitness test, study for the next rank, complete professional military education, and go to college,” Blackburn explained. “At times, there are some things you have to sacrifice. For me, work and family are the two things I can’t sacrifice.”
Prioritizing the different roles and responsibilities required of an Airman is something Blackburn has had to do since enlisting in the military, he said.
“We may have a lot on our plates, but the safety of our pilots and ultimately our nation depends on each of us to come together and get the job done,” Blackburn said.
(Editors note: This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)