Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Caretakers of Sukhoi jet fighters in Vietnam

For the ‘caretakers’ of the Russian-made Su-30MK2 fighter jets at an air base in the southern province of Dong Nai, work starts at 3:30am every day, before the sun is even up.
They are engineers and technicians of Air Regiment 935, tasked with the job of ensuring the fighters are flight-ready by 6:00am. The Su-30MK2 is a state-of-the-art supersonic fighter aircraft which is compared to a master cobra in the air thanks to its improved avionics, all-weather capability, and long-range endurance.

It is designed for maritime strikes, and air-to-air, and air-to-surface deep interdiction missions.
A working day starts at 3:30am
The ‘caretakers’ are the first to start their work day at the air base, when the sky is still dark. With a flashlight in hand, technicians rush to the hangars to diagnose the jets to prepare for flight at 6:00am.
The flashlights are used to check the technical details of the engines.
To ensure safety during a flight, the technicians actually finish checking on systems such as weaponry, radar, communication, and engines the previous day. But they still start earlier to double check everything before the pilots arrive.
Most of the time the job is performed in silence, with each engineer covering their own assigned areas.
At 6:00am, the air base is woken up by the deafening roars of the Su-30MK2. Technicians stand around to observe and listen to the sounds of working engines. Many use no ear plugs so that they can hear more clearly and better well diagnose any issues the jets may have.
One of the technicians said they have adapted to the roar. They joke that their daily perfume is the smell of engine smoke stained on their clothes.
After the fighters return to the hangars after a flight session, the ‘caretakers’ are the first to talk to the pilots about the condition of the ‘cobras’, so that they know what issues to look for.
“If an error is reported by pilots, we technicians must find it and correct it immediately, before another flight session resumes,” said the chief of the 2nd Company at the air base.
The 31 year-old chief is the youngest official to hold the post since the Air Techniques Battalion of Regiment 935 was established in 1998.
Listening to the sounds of Su, the Su-30MK2’s nickname, can help you understand its condition, he said. Su is like a human being, and a healthy voice is different from a sick one.
It is the pride of the technicians to prepare Su and see it soar up in the sky and return to base safely, he added.
Seeing them working in the hangars, with temperatures usually 2-3 Celsius degrees higher than other areas, sometimes up to 45-46 degrees, helps people realize how much they love their jobs.
“They devote time to their job even when they can’t ask for leave to take care of their sick children in hospital,” said senior lieutenant and pilot Dang Dinh Kien. “I admire their sense of high responsibility. I can sense the condition of my fighter based on seeing the pride on their faces.”
That’s why every single technical error of the Su-30MK2 can be corrected by the Vietnamese technicians, Kien added.
“We believe in not allowing any errors in the sky. It’s not only responsibility but also human love, as our errors may claim the lives of others [pilots],” said Dang Xuan Vy -- head of the technical battalion.
Thanks to this working spirit, Air Regiment 935 has a 15-year history of safe flights. It is the pride of the technicians standing in the background of victory.
“Golden hand”
Many of the technicians at the air base have been praised by Russian experts, as they have good ideas and correct routine technical errors that only exist in Vietnam due to weather and climatic conditions.
The title of ‘Golden Hand’ was awarded to Majors Nguyen Van Long and Mai Doan Chinh. Chinh is considered by colleagues to be a ‘live dictionary’ thanks to his deep knowledge of the Su-30MK2. Chinh learned Russian on his own and now can work as an interpreter for visiting Russian delegations.
‘Golden hand’ Long graduated with a middle-ranking diploma but can correct the most difficult errors by teaching himself.
Long is the first official at the air base who can smooth metal sheets in the air compression unit in the plane’s engine without damaging it.
With initiative and devotion to work, they invented devices to repair the cockpit cover and a net to prevent birds from entering the engine and damaging compression sheets. Dang Xuan Vy, head of the technical battalion, invented a tool to disassemble compression sheets.
First lieutenant Tran Gia Chuan, 28, invented a machine to check the ejection seat’s electrical system.
Living in rented houses, many of the staff have to work as part time teachers in local schools to earn extra income for their families. They even use their own money to buy devices to test tools of their own invention before submitting ideas to leaders.
The inventions and high responsibility help save time and money, a leader of the air base admitted.

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