JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Hydraulics are required in all aviation airframes, from starting the aircraft, to landing gear, and the ability to overcome the aerodynamic feedback forces generated in flight. For the U.S. Army, this also requires a constant flow of Soldiers to pass through the 128th Aviation Brigade’s aircraft pneudraulics repairer, 15H military operational specialty (MOS), course at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
The 14-week long course provides Soldiers with the critical starting point to learn about pneudraulic systems, properties, and tools of the trade for the 15H, ultimately keeping helicopters mission ready.
“I always impress upon the students the fact that these helicopters will never fly unless the hydraulic systems are operational, and these systems are an essential part of these airframes,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Raul Canedo, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, 15H instructor.
Of the major systems that give helicopters the ability to fly, like electrical power, onboard computing and navigation systems, hydraulic and pneudraulic systems continuously flow through several different areas of the helicopter.
“We think of hydraulics as the veins and arteries of the helicopter, because without hydraulics they wouldn’t fly, because they are critical from the pitch of the blades and all major systems,” said Pfc. Jeremy Hammann, 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, 15H student.
One of the most common causes of a faulty hydraulic system is fluid contamination. Hydraulic fluid contaminants include solid particles, air, water, or any other object that impairs the functioning capability of the pressurized hydraulic system. In fact, tiny particle contaminants cause some of the worst damage as they fit into the component’s internal clearances and can evade detection. This is where Soldiers within the 15H community are needed to perform hydraulic fluid dialysis.
“It’s an honor to be entrusted with this type of equipment, and not something that I can take lightly,” said Pfc. Justin Mayhew, 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, 15H student. “So we, as hydraulic repairers specifically, have to take our job and responsibilities very seriously.”
Each year, over 200 Soldiers pass though the 15H MOS school. During those initial days, some instructors take the time to educate themselves about who their students are.
“We’ll begin our courses with talking and getting to know our students; learning their backgrounds. So, when we’re teaching, we are trying to relay some of the curriculum to some of their own experiences like working on cars or other things,” said Sgt. Shawn Wright, Charlie Company 1-210 Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade, 15H instructor.
Like many course structures the Army utilizes today, it begins with classroom academics, then they transition to a hands-on portion to apply their lessons. The hands-on portion takes place in a hangar bay where there are Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk and Boeing CH-47 Chinook class helicopter simulators similar to the actual airframes they will be maintaining when they report to their respective units.
“Like me, I can study and read technical manuals and schematics, but it’s when I put hands on it, manipulate it or operate it that I get a total understanding of it,” said Canedo, “and a lot of my students have the same learning style.
Canedo has served in Army aviation and in the 15H community for 13 years. Since his days as a student, the course has moved from Fort Rucker, Alabama, to JBLE. According to him, both the curriculum and type of students have changed.
“Here, they are getting a better range of components and a more in-depth analysis, so that creates a much wiser and practical mechanic when they leave the schoolhouse than classes from 15 or 20 years ago,” said Canedo.
Each course has approximately 8 to 10 students. In many portions of the course, they will pair up with one another for certain tasks and learning lessons. The byproduct can often lead to enhanced camaraderie in a relatively small community.
“It’s helpful in the fact that you’re not going through it alone, because there are somedays, we may wake up and think about if we’re really up for it, but then you’ll have the reminder that everyone else is doing the same thing you are, so it really helps build the mindset of ‘you’re not in this alone’,” said Hammann.
Portable and up-to-date technologies are provided to the students, which allow them to spend less time on a memorization process.
“We’re told not to memorize everything that is in the manual,” said Mayhew, 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, 15H student, “because every time we are working on a system we’re operating from the technical manuals on the laptops as we’re doing it.”
Throughout classroom guidance and hands-on training, questions will still always be asked due to the complexity of these hydraulic systems. These questions are anticipated and welcomed by the instructors.
“Sometimes we’ll go over some of the content quickly, but we’ll ask them if they understand and nobody will say anything, and we can see a few of them didn’t get it, so we’ll ask them questions and they have to answer us to see if they got it,” said Wright. “If they don’t answer or they tell us they don’t understand, we’ll go back and explain it a bit different on the second round.”
Since the early days of aviation, the U.S. military has incorporated air support and operations into each branch of service and has attributed these efforts many of their strategic successes. To continue this success, there will need to be a constant flow of maintainers and repairers.
“I think it’s a privilege to be an instructor, and I really wanted to do this and experience the training and development side, and have a deeper understanding and view,” said Canedo. “I never take it for granted that I have this privilege and opportunity to share, not only my experience but also learn from them, so I’m excited for the future of the Army’s hydraulic and pneudraulic field.”