Petty Officer 2nd Class Miguel Arellano, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles, operates the hoist on a MH-65C Dolphin helicopter during training operations off the coast of Venice, Calif., Jan. 24, 2012. The helicopter crew practices lowering and raising a rescue basket to and from the deck of the Auxiliary Vessel Ladyfish III. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (1/25/2012) - In today's world it has become
quite normal to view jobs that require using your hands or getting
them dirty as undesirable. There seems to be a collective dismissing
of the importance and merit of manual labor. Skilled tradesmen not
only afford us basic comforts, their talents can save lives. In the
world of maritime rescue and security, there are few people more
valuable to have around than a Coast Guard flight mechanic.
Officially called aviation maintenance technicians (or AMTs), Coast
Guard aviation mechanics keep a nation-wide fleet of airplanes and
helicopters ready to execute a variety of demanding and sometimes
“Without AMTs we wouldn't
be able to keep these planes up and flying,” said Petty Officer 2nd
Class Miguel Arellano, an aviation maintenance technician at Coast
Guard Air Station Los Angeles. “We make them able to go out and do
Coast Guard flight mechanics are charged with
wide array of responsibilities that can be grouped into two main
“You have two main duties as an AMT,” explained Arellano.
“You have your mechanical duties and you have your flying
When the helicopters or airplanes are not up
in the sky, AMTs are working hard in the hangars, performing
a multitude of tasks from metalsmithing, to conducting inspections, to
changing tires, to servicing gearboxes, fuselages, wings and
rotor blades. AMTs are also responsible for painting the
aircraft those instantly recognizable colors of Coast Guard
red, blue and white.
When the alarm sounds and Coast
Guard aircraft take to the skies, AMTs become an integral
part of the flight crew, serving as flight engineers. AMTs
are responsible for safely lowering and retrieving Coast
Guard rescue swimmers and survivors during training and
actual rescue operations.
“When you're not hoisting,”
said Arellano, “you're backing up the pilots as an extra
pair of eyes, observing air traffic and making sure they're
taking the right steps.”
These duties are not taken
lightly and acquiring the skill and qualifications to
perform them is no easy task. Hopeful AMTs must first meet
the required score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude
Battery test which is taken upon military enlistment.
“Next, they'll go through the Airman Program for four
months before A-school,” explained Arellano. “They'll go to
an air station and learn about the aircraft, how to tow the
aircraft in and out, and how to fuel. Then it's off to
A-school for five months.”
AMT A-School is held at
the Coast Guard Aviation Technical Training Center in
Elizabeth City, N.C. The curriculum is intense. Students are
taught about every Coast Guard aircraft platform, including
the MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter,
the C-130 Hercules airplane, and the HC-144 Casa airplane.
“You have a test every day for five months,” remembered
Arellano. “It's tough, but not impossible.”
Guardsmen endure the training and become AMTs for many
different reasons. Arellano originally wanted to pursue the
path of a rescue swimmer.
“I was pretty athletic, but
I had no idea what the whole rate entailed,” said Arellano.
“I was mechanically inclined already and thought AMT sounded
more like something I would want to do.”
It takes a
lot of effort and training to become an AMT, even for those
who possess a mechanical aptitude. For Arellano, however,
the rewards are well worth the hard work.
“A lot of
the time, it's just work, work, work,” said Arellano, “but
when you get that plane up just as the SAR alarm is going
off and rescue three people off a sinking ship; that's the
true reward. We made it possible to save those lives.”
AMTs often stand humbly behind the scenes of glamorous
rescues and don't often receive the recognition their
invaluable work deserves. So next time you hear the distinct
sound overhead of a Coast Guard helicopter or airplane on
its way to a rescue or patrolling coastal areas, think of
the many skilled and distinguished men and women who keep
the Coast Guard in the sky.
By U.S. Coast Guard District 11 PADET Los Angeles
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