Plane Captains: Last Eyes to Ensure Mission Ready

Story Number: NNS130808-12Release Date: 8/8/2013 1:53:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paolo Bayas

CORAL SEA (NNS) -- Plane captains attached to squadrons aboard the U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) are responsible to ensure that every aircraft is mission-ready.

Plane captains assigned to line divisions perform maintenance and daily checks on every aircraft.

"Plane captains are usually the most junior personnel in the squadron," said Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic (Equipment) Richard Brickey, line division leading chief petty officer from the "Dambusters" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195. "However, we teach them that we trust them with a pilot's life and an 80-million dollar aircraft, which requires them to be the most responsible."

According to Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate Sunsuke Ueeda, line division leading chief petty officer from the "Saberhawks" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77, the plane captain qualification is the first major responsibility that airmen earn upon arrival to a squadron.

"I came to be a plane captain knowing nothing," said Airman Miles McGowan, plane captain assigned to VFA 195. "My responsibility was to learn everything in the syllabus and earn all of the qualifications necessary to become a plane captain. I stay on my toes, remain professional and ensure that I do not overlook anything because the smallest thing can kill someone."

Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class Katrina Franklin, a crew lead plane captain assigned to VFA-195 says, responsibilities of a plane captain includes daily, pre-flight and post-flight checks. These checks include; cockpit for foreign object damage hazards; cockpit switchology; straps are fastened; emergency oxygen is at proper levels; auxiliary power unit circuit breakers are at 3,000 pounds per square inch; canopy is absolutely clean; intake blades are clean; and no cracks and no missing fasteners.

"As soon as we get on the flight deck, we begin to double-check our previous night check to ensure the aircraft is mission-ready," said Franklin. "On top of that, we practice and compete with one another on how good our hand-signals are executed. Performing hand-signals is the most enjoyable part of our job."

Two hours before a flight, plane captains conduct another check to ensure that fixed-wing aircraft can perform an internal built-in test; a full-throw check that consists of testing the flight surface controls and the trim, a setting in the aircraft for launching from an aircraft carrier.

For helicopters, plane captains check the engines, gear boxes, hydraulic pumps and corrosion.

"Our helicopters shake themselves apart because that is in their nature," said Aviation Electrician's Mate Airman Brian Silveira, a plane captain assigned to of HSM 77. "As plane captains, we ensure that the aircraft is in good working order. We are the last set of eyes before our aircraft is cleared for flight and our aircrew gets in there and goes up. So it's a big responsibility to ensure that our aircraft does not fall out of the sky and end up losing lives."

It takes about six months to become a plane captain. It is a designation separate from each individual's rate.
"It is a very rewarding job," said McGowan. "I have my name on the side of a multi-million dollar aircraft. But what we instill within each other and our new incoming personnel, who will be our replacement, is safety comes first."

George Washington and its embarked air wing, Carrier Air Wing 5, provide a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interest of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

For more news from USS George Washington (CVN 73), visit

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