Multi-Capable Airmen: Maintainers pursue FAA Airframe, Powerplant ratings

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing

The life of a military maintenance professional is one of constant training. At Kingsley Field, the sole U.S. Air Force F-15C schoolhouse, the training in many respects mirrors the constant upgrading of the aircraft themselves. Although the airframes are all more than 30 years in age, the integrated technology such as the radar and armament are modern and updated.

A good analogy is that of a classic hot rod. Picture a 1968 Pontiac GTO, with requisite gunmetal gray paint, and white stripe over the hood. It looks classic until you pop the hood—the motor is state-of-the-art, upgraded suspension components are visible in the engine bay and the wheels and rubber are circa 2023. Upon climbing into the passenger seat, you see satellite navigation, modern sound system, and essentially all the modern amenities.

These jets are like that too, with upgraded radar, engines and many other advancements. Upgrades are a continual process in every Air Force airframe.

To keep up with that, maintainers also upgrade their training on a near continual basis.

In that spirit several Team Kingsley Airmen pursued a state-of-the-art upgrade to their training, expanding their skills “toolbox” and developing maintenance skills beyond their assigned Air Force Specialty Code.

Tech. Sgt. Jonanthan Lastra, a crew chief by trade, is the most recent Team Kingsley Airman to pursue Federal Aviation Administration Airframe and Powerplant certifications.

“I wanted to broaden my experience and just be a better all-around mechanic,” he said.

These certifications are broad indeed, covering a wide range of aircraft including piston, turbine and propeller drive propulsion systems as well as hydraulics, electrical and warning systems, and the airframe.

“If you have your A&P, you’ve dabbled in every part of the plane,” said Staff Sgt. Aidan Tumlinson, a 173rd Fighter Wing Hydraulics Mechanic who earned his A & P Certifications in late July. “You’ve worked on propellers, you know a lot about engines, landing gear, electrical systems, a bit about avionics and when you troubleshoot problems with other shops you already have a basic understanding of their systems.”

Tumlinson says the program dovetails with the concept of multi-capable Airmen. “A big part of what the Air Force is pushing is cross-utilization training,” he adds. 

Cross Utilization Training formalizes the concept that an Airman’s capability isn’t locked between the rigid walls of their AFSC; it acknowledges that much of their expertise does apply to other airframes and other disciplines within the maintenance career field.

“The reality is in maintenance when you go out to the jet you are going to do things that are outside of your AFSC; just because I’m hydro doesn’t mean I’m only going to touch hydro,” Tumlinson said. “When I’m working a jet and an electric guy needs a hand, I’m going to help him out—you are expected to step in and help him out—having your A & P makes that a whole lot easier.”

The Air Force at large is also acknowledging this is true outside of aviation maintenance, saying that nearly every Airmen does things outside their specialty to accomplish the mission.

Typically, a two-year college-level program is required to achieve this certification, unless you can demonstrate more than two years of documented experience.

“You either complete a two-year school, or if you have verified 30 months experience like we do in Air Force maintenance, you bypass that requirement and can go take the test,” Lastra said.

When asked if that means it’s a difficult test, he chuckles, saying, “yes!”

For that reason, he opted for a two-week “crash course” hosted by a civilian agency to help him prepare for the test, and the Air Force paid for it through a program called AF COOL, earning his certificates in early mid-October.  

Maj. Richard Schuster, the 173rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, says this certification benefits his Airmen now and after they retire. “Not only does this help allow folks to speak the same language with industry partners, but it provides our troops an avenue to continue an aircraft maintenance career after they retire from the military.”

Tumlinson sums up his experience after earning these certifications saying, “Getting your A & P is a bit like learning another language; you’re able to make connections with people that you normally can’t because now you understand how their systems work and the issues they deal with in their systems.”

He sees it as an integral part of his professional development and that he won’t be surprised if many Air Force maintainers follow suit.