US Army Parachute Team 'Golden Knights' Aviation Detachment

Top skydiving demonstration and competition team uses DHC6 Twin Otters and Fokker F27Ms.

DAC Instructor & Maintenance Pilot Al Aber (L) with CW3(P) Earnest Chance in the front office of a C31A Troopship.

By the time they have been with the team for 12-18 months, he explains, every pilot is PIC qualified in both types-meaning they can fly as PIC (aircraft commander) or FO. "They understand both roles equally well," he says.

"Division of duties is more a function of experience." CW3(P) Earnest Chance has served with the Army since 1983 and has been a pilot since 1992. He joined the Golden Knights in Jul 2007 at the start of a 4-year assignment, and began flying with the team late last year.

With 4450 hrs TT (500 hrs rotary-wing, 3950 hrs fixed-wing), Chance is PIC qualified on the UV18A and averages 40 hrs a month in the air. He started training in the C31A this spring.

Chance describes the Twin Otter as "one of the easier fixed-wing airplanes I've learned to fly," but attributes this to his earlier experience as a standardizations officer in Germany. He characterizes piloting the UV18A as "raw data flying versus computer flying."

Keeping them flying

Most maintenance work on the Golden Knights aircraft is carried out by Defense Support Services (DS2), a Lockheed Martin/Day & Zimmermann company that provides support to the US Dept of Defense. DS2 is based in Greenville SC and administered from Wright-Patterson AFB. DS2 Project Leader Mike Dieck is one of 2 A&P/IAs, Jimmy Carrier being the other.

A 20-year Army veteran, Dieck joined the Golden Knights in Jan 1978 and was a crew chief for 7 years. He became an A&P mechanic in 1978 and qualified as a private pilot in 1980. Dieck is a 1982 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

While most of the 8 maintenance technicians who report to Dieck are civilians, they all have military experience-for a combined total of 121 years of military service-in addition to a civilian A&P license. The majority have been with the team for 8-10 years. One female A&P Mechanic, Michelle Reiner, has been with DS2 for 9 years.

Her experience includes 21 years of US Air Force service-10 of them active-duty and 11 reserve, primarily on the Lockheed C130 Hercules. Around 75% of the maintenance on Golden Knights aircraft-everything up to depot-level maintenance-is done in-house at POB.

Dieck explains that Golden Knights aircraft are maintained to FAA requirements under civil and military rules, whichever are more stringent. Work such as D checks, heavy maintenance checks and painting are outsourced on bid contract at Dieck's discretion with government approval.

(Excel Aircraft Services of Mena AR usually does the paintwork.) Engine hot section inspections and engine changes are carried out in-house, but higher-level work requires the engines to be sent out.

Attending a regular meeting of crew chiefs at POB, (L-R) Staff Sgt Bobby Long, Staff Sgt Jeff Oddo, Aviation Detachment NCOIC SFC Brandon Smith, Sgt Taylor Lamm and Staff Sgt Robert Gordon.

The Rolls-Royce engines are shipped overseas to an approved overhaul facility in either the UK or New Zealand. In general, the unit replaces items at calendar-based intervals more than on a flight-hour or cycle basis, says Dieck. (The Golden Knights aircraft do not achieve the high flight-hour and landing cycles expected of a commuter aircraft for which the manufacturer's program was written.)

The aircraft are maintained in accordance with each manufacturer's recommended program. DS2 has a continued airworthiness service agreement (CASA) with Netherlands-based Stork Fokker Aircraft Services for the C31As. No such formal arrangement exists with Viking Air for the UV18As, but the manufacturer provides assistance as required. The unit keeps up with all service bulletins on both aircraft types. "We do what's needed to enhance reliability and safety," he adds.

During the week, work schedules overlap. Flexibility is key, says Dieck, and shifts are staggered so that 4 technicians are typically present at a time. Maintenance team members rarely travel with the team, but they are on call on weekends and can respond within 20 min in the case of a problem.

Aviation Maintenance Officer & Contract Field Team Project Officer GS13 Ken Breeden (L) discusses scheduled maintenance on one of the team's UV18A Twin Otters with DS2 Project Leader Mike Dieck.

Also reporting to Dieck is civilian Frank Reiner, an Army-trained maintenance test pilot with 9000 hrs TT (4000 hrs rotary-wing, 5000 hrs fixed-wing). Reiner served in the US Air Force from 1977-81 as an engine mechanic on the McDonnell F4 Phantom II. He served in the Army as a pilot from 1983 until his retirement in 1998, and has been with DS2 since 2000.

Reiner's duties include test flights, maintenance ground runs and flying Golden Knights demo team missions. He usually does maintenance operational check (MOC) and test flights that take place before sign-off and release.

Reiner is also involved with flight training and academics and is one of the team's instructor pilots. The Golden Knights take on 1 or 2 new pilots every year. They require transition instruction because the team flies non-standard Army aircraft, but there is far more to the job than flying. "You could teach anyone to fly an airplane," he remarks. "If you can't interact with people, it doesn't do this team any good."

Reiner claims to have the best job in the unit. For him the best aspect of it all is the soldiers he works with. He describes them as "the best in the Army." Ensuring that DS2 carries out the "scope of work" required is Aviation Maintenance Officer & Contract Field Team Project Officer GS13 Ken Breeden, a retired CW5.

Breeden has more than 8000 hrs TT (2700 hrs rotary-wing, 5300 hrs fixed-wing). Originally a carpenter's apprentice, he joined the Army in 1981 and graduated from flight school in Jun 1982. He has been the maintenance officer for the Golden Knights since 1997-both while active-duty and, since 2004, as a civilian.

During the week, Breeden supports the tandem and competition teams, but he is also on the weekend airshow circuit 12-15 times a year. As he puts it, "It's a blessing and a privilege to be able to retire and do the same thing you did after your military service in a civilian role." Detachment NCO in charge (NCOIC) SFC Brandon Smith is responsible for overseeing contracts and maintenance.

He has served with the Army for 16 years and is now in his second tour with the Golden Knights. Four other crew chiefs report to him. A former crew chief himself, Smith has been NCOIC since 2002. All the crew chiefs came to the team qualified on the Sikorsky UH60 Black Hawk. Smith explains that, since there are no schools for the C31A and UV18A, crew chiefs train on the job during their 3-year stay with the team.

As the "central guy," Smith doesn't travel much with the team. Instead, he describes his job as keeping everything in order and "prepping the airplanes while working around maintenance folks." Smith has made 39 jumps to date.

For him, the best part of the job is "talking to the American public about what we do." Talking to the public is part of it. Engaging with the excitement that aviation can generate, and helping young people imagine how it feels to fly an airplane or-sometimes-even jump out of one may be just as important. As Pilot CW4(P) Johanson says, "Every mission we go on, it makes me proud of our military. Just coming to work is exciting."


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