While most of Stennis’ crew sleeps quietly in their racks, one division’s night check is hustling to navigate millions of dollars worth of equipment safely around the ship.
Air Department’s V-3 division night crew has moved aircraft around the hangar bay and to the flight deck with zero mishaps since Stennis’ Planned Incremental Availability (PIA) and works hard every night to maintain this standard.
“No matter what happens off deck in their personal lives, it stays off deck,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW) Lindbergh Wesley. “Once they step on deck, whether they’re making aircraft move or just doing FOD walk down, it’s all business.”
The job of V-3 is to position aircraft in the hangar bays so that squadron members can do maintenance and move them to and from the aircraft elevators on the way to the flight deck.
This may not sound like a difficult task, but V-3 must meet and overcome a series of challenges on a nightly basis.
“We have to move 50-million dollar aircraft in the confined space of the hangar bay,” said Wesley. “We’re also shorthanded. V-3 night crew only has 34 people. We are supposed to have more, but we always get the job done.”
Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 3rd Class (AW) Emily Branchal said she imagines these challenges as a jigsaw puzzle.
“You can’t just put an aircraft anywhere to go up on jacks or for high powered turns,” said Branchal. “We always joke around about how our job is like Tetris.”
Another defining feature of V-3’s night crew is their flexibility to work anytime they are called away.
“Night crew is never on a set schedule because things are always changing,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Tammi McPherson. “We could be eating on the mess decks and someone could come get us at any moment. V-3 always has to be ready to work.”
Branchal, who worked the day shift last deployment, said that even though their routine occasionally gets disrupted in the day time, there is a lot more activity going on at night.
“There’s definitely more down time during the days,” said Branchal. “We get more on the job training at night because we move more aircraft at night.”
The majority of the crew may think there is plenty of room in the hangar bays and on the aircraft elevators, but to someone moving aircraft, these areas can be considered hazardously close.
“Our biggest danger zones are the elevators,” said Branchal. “One of the first times we lowered the elevator after PIA, the aircraft was sitting right on the edge. I wouldn’t let any of my people in training out there. If we have two people out there, one of them in training, that’s an extra person on the elevator that doesn’t need to be there.”
Aside from the risks of the job, Wesley said he likes to compare V-3’s accident-free streak to the winning streak of a good football team.
“Every team wants to go to the Super Bowl, but some teams are satisfied with winning just one game,” said Wesley. “Night crew isn’t satisfied with just one night of safely moving the aircraft and no one getting hurt. They want the whole thing, from work-ups all the way through deployment. Complacency is not good.”
McPherson said this mentality is displayed by the motto of V-3’s night division: “We don’t come to play, we come to win!”