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Face of Defense: B-2 crew chief fills important role

  • Published
  • By By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
His hands are glazed from spatters of grease and oil. His uniform reeks of hydraulic fluid after working a 12-hour shift maintaining a B-2 Spirit.

Airman 1st Class Steven McCray, 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit B-2 crew chief, is one of more than 160 crew chiefs who perform maintenance on the B-2. He is assigned to the maintenance team for the "Spirit of Missouri," one of two B-2s which recently flew the long-duration, round-trip training mission to South Korea March 28 as part of the Foal Eagle training exercise.

"It is an amazing feeling to be able to say, 'My jet flew on that training mission to South Korea,'" McCray said. "It felt good to see it on national television and to read about it in news articles; [seeing] photos of the plane I helped launch was a once in a lifetime experience."

The news of McCray's B-2 even attracted the attention of family and friends in Sanderson, Fla., McCray's hometown.

"Airman McCray on this particular endeavor did his job exactly like he does his job every day," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Jones, 13th AMU dedicated crew chief. "When we come to work, we train how we fight. Airman McCray was simply handling business as usual."

Jones is the flight lead who supervises McCray's shift.

"The B-2 is a big part of our Air Force," McCray said. "Not having a stealth-capable aircraft could be disastrous. You never know when our country might need the B-2 for a global emergency, so that's our motivation - to provide the highest quality maintenance possible."

McCray said he gets a lot of his motivation from the pride in his aircraft and the knowledge that pilots are safe when they take off on the runway.

"Not only are the pilots lives' in our hands but, like a car engine, B-2s also need to be fixed," McCray said. "If we can't do our job properly, then the aircraft won't even lift off the ground."

Part of making sure B-2s can lift off means performing pre-flight and post-flight inspections to ensure all components are in working order.

"We're constantly inspecting," McCray said. "Even when an aircraft isn't going anywhere, it still gets inspected."

Attention to detail is crucial because hours of hard work from various maintenance sections can go down the drain if one crew chief does not do his job correctly, said McCray.

If issues arise during inspections, B-2 crew chiefs have more than 1,000 technical orders they can follow, which provide step-by-step guidance on how to troubleshoot and perform each task.

"We have to do exactly what the T.O. tells us to do verbatim," McCray said. "There's no corner-cutting at all."

Having been stationed at Whiteman for more than two years, McCray has had his fair share of maintenance work on all shifts.

"I've been on days, mids and swings and none of them are really bad," McCray said. "It's just that they might need you on days one day because the manning could be low or they need to fill a spot. Or they can put you on swings because you are more experienced compared to younger Airmen, and they need some type of leadership."

During his first few months, McCray said he had some trouble adjusting to working through night shifts because his body was not used to sleeping during the day and staying awake at night.

"I had to cover my windows with aluminum foil to block out the sunlight," McCray said.

In addition to adjusting to different work shifts, the Florida native also had to adjust to Missouri's long, freezing-cold winters.

"Where I'm from, the coldest it ever got was about 60 degrees," McCray said. "I saw snow and icy roads for the first time my first year here."

For McCray, maintenance is a lot more than just a job that pays the bills. It is a standard of living.

"It's part of your lifestyle. You can't just go home and not think about maintenance," McCray said. "Even though you're relaxed when you get home, you still have to think about the next day's events because you want to be on your A-game every time you come back to work."

Whether launching a B-2 or providing routine maintenance, crew chiefs are one large part of the flightline team that keep Spirits soaring.

"At the end of the day you need AGE, you need pilots and you need crew chiefs," McCray said. "Everybody is a big piece of the puzzle on the flightline."