Boeing Frontiers
December 2002/January 2003
Volume 01, Issue 08
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools

Heroes of the flight line

Super Hornet demonstration team goes the limit to keep jets flying


Dave Wright As the roar of jet engines fills the air, spectators tip back their heads and turn their eyes toward the sky. It doesn't matter if it's in Malaysia, France or the United States, the members of the F/A-18 Super Hornet demonstration team always see the same looks of awe and delight on faces in every country they visit.

Now, this dedicated team is focused on the Australian International Air Show, set for February 2003. The team's plan is to make the Super Hornet's aerial demonstration there its most exciting ever.

Most of the work that goes into a successful air show takes place behind the scenes and begins four or five months before a show begins. The planning team includes business development, aircraft maintenance, contracts, flight test, flight safety and customer relations representatives from across Boeing Integrated Defense Systems.

There are no crowds, no cameras, no members of the media involved as the team dedicates long hours to plans for leasing Super Hornets from the U.S. Navy, ferrying the aircraft to air show sites, packing up the necessary equipment to maintain the aircraft and coordinating myriad logistics details.

The coordination responsibility falls to Boeing IDS flight test engineer Phil Martin. "My job is to coordinate the air show requirements with all the various groups to make sure everything happens on schedule," Martin says. "There are a lot of ‘unsung heroes' that help make this happen."

The best-known member of the team is Ricardo Traven, Boeing IDS air show demonstration pilot. Traven develops the air show maneuvers and flies the aircraft during shows before thousands of eager onlookers.

"It's a team event," Traven says. "It's almost like race-car driving. You've got a pit crew, and that crew can make the difference between winning and losing the race."

F/A-18E/FTraven depends on the maintenance crew to keep the Super Hornet in peak condition. "We are pushing the product to its absolute limit in a short period of time," he says. "Everything has got to work every day."

Leading the maintenance team is Alan Buhr, who also is Boeing IDS maintenance team lead at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. His contribution to the team's effort includes planning the maintenance staffing levels, determining which spare parts might be needed and how many to take, and overseeing the activities of the three flight mechanics, one electrician and one flight inspector who have accompanied the Super Hornet since its debut at the 2000 Farnborough International Air Show in the United Kingdom.

"My primary responsibility is ensuring that the processes and people are in place to provide a safe aircraft to fly the demonstrations," Buhr says. "Safety is the one thing we all take very seriously and the one area where we can never compromise."

Buhr spends much of his time before and during shows anticipating what might happen. "I'm typically focused on the next day's activities," he says. "For example, if the primary jet breaks, then we need to have a plan for getting the static display aircraft out and replacing it with the demonstration aircraft while we work on it."

Members of the demonstration team are on the road for a month or more as they support two weeks of mandatory practice at a remote site, transport the aircraft to air show venues, and work the actual air shows.

Alan BuhrFlight mechanic Jim McRanor is used to traveling; he did plenty when he was in the U.S. Marine Corps. "I like doing this," he says. "It can be a challenge having to be away from home for weeks at a time, but when the aircraft takes off and does a tremendous show, then I know it's worth it. I'm going to keep supporting the shows until my wife or the company tells me to stop."

Dave Wright, also a flight mechanic and former Marine, agrees that being part of the demo team is exciting and rewarding. "This is the highlight of my career," Wright says. "We've learned a lot since we started supporting these shows. We have become very focused and experienced at doing whatever it takes to keep the aircraft up and flying for the next show."

But even the best-laid plans can go amiss. A year ago, when the Super Hornet flew in the Australian International Air Show, the demonstration aircraft developed a leak in fuel cell one, which is located right behind the cockpit. For two weeks after the completion of the air show, the crew was in Australia waiting for a replacement fuel cell.

"We kept busy performing routine daily maintenance activities," Buhr explains. "So when the part arrived, we were ready to install it and head home."

Despite the grueling 12- and 14-hour days, occasional problems in Customs and all of the minor inconveniences associated with life on the road, the Super Hornet demonstration team remains enthusiastic and committed to providing people around the world with an exciting, safe and educational experience.

Thanks to the efforts of this dedicated team, the Super Hornet has never missed a scheduled air show demonstration.


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