By Capt. Steve Massara
Don Muang Air Base, Bangkok, Thailand
Under clear blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the 90s, three Team Little Rock maintainers from the 373rd Training Squadron Detachment 4 embarked on their two-week training partnership with the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) in Bangkok, Thailand.
The C-130 Mobile Training Team (MTT) of Tech. Sgt. Erik Ruppert, Staff Sgt. Chase Honeycutt and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Burkey trekked more than 10,000 miles across the globe in order to help a long-time C-130 partner enhance their maintenance capabilities through focused aircraft rigging training.
The instruction brought together C-130 maintainers from both the RTAF airframe specialty and from Thai Aviation Industries (TAI), a semi-state owned business responsible for RTAF depot-level maintenance tasks. To meet this training need, Honeycutt and Burkey conducted two classes in tandem instructing more than 20 RTAF and TAI maintainers for 10 days.
“It was a humbling experience to be part of this MTT and to help foster the relationship between the U.S. and Thailand,” said Burkey. “The RTAF and TAI maintainers are very mechanically inclined and took well to our training.”
Record floods struck Bangkok in 2011, destroying and damaging much of the maintenance infrastructure and support equipment at Don Muang Air Base, home of the RTAF’s only C-130 base. Without proper tools or equipment, the RTAF had a difficult time maintaining its fleet of 12 C-130H aircraft. In concert with the reacquisition of maintenance tools and equipment, a nine-member Team Little Rock MTT visited February 2013, helping to provide broad-based training on engines, electrics, hydraulics and airframe components to more than 100 RTAF maintainers.
The incorporation of formalized training, helped the C-130H fleet’s fully mission capable rate rise more than 50 percent over the past two years. Recognizing the value of the 2013 visit funded through Foreign Military Financing funds from the U.S. State Department, the RTAF chose to invest in future training. To this end, Air Force Security Assistance and Training, Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group Thailand, and the Military Personnel Exchange Program provided the RTAF with the means to achieve their training goals.
This year, the RTAF requested focused training specifically for aircraft rigging. The training included aircraft doors, landing gear, cargo ramp, flight controls, steering and engine systems.
“It was awesome to be able to use our experiences to help the RTAF extend aircraft service life and reduce re-occurring issues while improving mission readiness and our relations,” Honeycutt said.
Beyond the friendships established, enhancing interoperability and the capacity to maintain Thailand’s only tactical military airlift capability remains essential for missions such as transporting and responding to regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the Asia-Pacific theater.
The training at Don Muang Air Base was more intensive this year and included the full jacking of an aircraft in order to rig the nose and main landing gear. The hands-on practical training combined with classroom instruction, facilitated through two interpreters, ensured each Thai maintainer understood all materials and was able to ask detailed questions.
After more than 80 hours of instruction, both teams were excited to have completed the learning objectives and celebrate the many years of sustained partnership between the United States and Thailand.
“This year’s follow-up training was very helpful in bringing rigging experience to our unit, and we look forward to continued relations and training in the future,” said Squadron Leader Natchanon Wongwenai, the RTAF 601 Chief of Maintenance.