Through Airmen's Eyes: A Maintainer's Story
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The sound of freedom pierces the air as a jet passes by and a maintainer looks up briefly to see his aircraft back in action.
When Airman 1st Class Christian Maldonado enlisted into the U.S. Air Force in 2014 he had no idea that he would become an F-15 Eagle maintainer.
"I wanted to become a computer programmer," Maldonado said. "This is even better."
As an avionics systems specialist for the 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, Maldonado maintains and repairs the multiple onboard systems of F-15 Eagles including attack control, flight control, communications and navigation.
The job requires precise attention to detail since proper maintenance can mean the difference between mission success and failure. This responsibility is something that Maldonado keeps in mind every time he works on a jet.
"A lot of our systems interface with everything on the jet," Maldonado said. "I'm 20 years old and I'm working on a multi-million dollar aircraft. I'm very proud of it."
Maldonado described his experiences on the flight line as a love/hate relationship that has taught him a lot.
"We know sometimes it's going to be very challenging and we band together to push through it. We bond closer than some of the other career fields."
Part of his job is to help make quick fixes to jets to ensure they are available for the flying schedule. Although Maldonado now considers himself a competent maintainer, that wasn't always the case. He considers the worst moment of his two year career as not knowing what to do, not being experienced enough.
Imagine a brand new enlisted Airman working on the flight line as a maintainer. There are jets landing and taking off constantly, people hurrying back and forth everywhere and constant radio chatter.
"I remember when they had me do my first Red Ball," Maldonado said. "A Red Ball is when a jet lands they're not going to turn off the jet because they want to see if a maintainer can find the issue and fix it as the jet is running to save man hours."
"I don't remember the pilot's name, but I remember he was having an issue with his heads up display. I was two months out of technical school, still doing Career Development Courses and there was no one else available. Usually they like to save 'Red Balls' for the experienced maintainers, but I was the only one there since the other maintainers were helping out with other aircraft."
"They were like, 'Hey Maldonado, go talk to this pilot. Just go get some information from them.'"
The crew chief looks at Maldonado and gestures for him to connect communications. Maldonado replies with a look of confusion.
"I had no idea what it meant," he said. "He threw a headset at me since everyone was in a rush."
"I connect communications and start talking to the pilot who was a Lt. Col. Being fresh out of technical school you're a little intimidated by rank. At least I was. I asked him what's the issue and he said his rangefinder wasn't showing up and his air-to-air reticle wasn't showing."
"Completely lost and had no idea what he meant. I had a notepad and wrote down everything he said and told him to shut the jet down. At that moment I felt so dumb. I was embarrassed and intimidated by the whole thing, but it motivated me to learn more. You don't want to be that guy out here that doesn't know what he's doing."
The experience motivated Maldonado to work harder and be more dependable.
"Yea sure the work is sometimes exhausting and sometimes you just want to say I quit, I'm done with today. It's honestly not that bad," he said. "This is better than being a computer programmer. Hey, I'm 20 years and I'm working on a multi-million dollar aircraft."