Saturday, September 02, 2017

Former Dover Air Force Base mechanic flying high with the Thunderbirds

Former Dover Air Force Base Airman Mark McMonagle is now a structural maintenance technician for the United States Air Force Thunderbirds, the official air demonstration team. 

DOVER — When it comes to working on aircraft one could say that Mark McMonagle takes it to the extreme.

Senior Airman McMonagle spent four years stationed at Dover Air Force Base where he worked on the C-5M Super Galaxy — the world’s largest cargo airplane — as well as the C-17 Globemaster III.

These days Airman McMonagle, a native of Port Matilda, Pennsylvania, is one of four aircraft structural maintenance technicians for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team.

It’s a different world. Now, he’s one of the rock stars of the air.

“I always have people coming up asking for autographs,” Airman McMonagle said. “It’s very intriguing seeing all of the different locations that we got to. We’ve got 76 shows at 38 different locations, so we’re busy from the end of February through the middle of November.”

It was just last summer when Airman McMonagle traveled to the Ocean City (Maryland) Air Show where he saw the Thunderbirds perform in person for the first time in his life.

He figured that being around the precision of the Thunderbirds’ team and the power of the F-16 Fighting Falcons that they pilot was something that he would really enjoy.

“I actually wanted to join (the Thunderbirds) a couple of years ago but I was too low of a grade yet,” Airman McMonagle said. “I just put (an application) together with the hopes of making the team and it caught me by surprise when I had an email saying that I was accepted.”

He is now one of more than 120 enlisted personnel, representing nearly 30 career fields, that form the backbone of the Thunderbirds.

Airman McMonagle was chosen to join the team after undergoing a very competitive hiring process that focused on his past record of success and extensive job proficiency

Just like every new team member, he began his new assignment learning about life as a Thunderbird, the team’s long and detailed history, its heritage, mission and squadron-specific policies.

It all culminated with an oral exam where he was tested by his fellow Airmen on anything and everything related to the Thunderbirds. Once he completed the final test, the squadron commander rewarded him with a Thunderbirds patch and coin.

“I’ve been with the Thunderbirds for eight months now,” Airman McMonagle said. “I do aircraft structural maintenance, so we’re kind of the auto body (shop) of the aircraft. If they have any loose hardware, paint, or anything, there’s four of us on the team and we do all of the external and internal structural (work on the aircraft).”

Judging from his official job description, it appears to be a little more involved that just slapping on some Bondo body filler or putting some duct tape on a crack.

The description says “his responsibilities include inspecting and repairing damage to plastic, fiberglass, bonded structures and bonded honeycomb assemblies on aircraft, balancing aircraft control surfaces and ensuring that repairs are pressure-, fluid- and weather-tight, and removing corrosion by using various chemical and mechanical methods to treat and preserve the aircraft.”

It’s actually the same job he did on Dover’s C-5s and C-17s for four years.

“The biggest difference has been going from having to use a stand for everything I worked on to having to watch my head so I don’t bust it on anything,” Mr. McMonagle said, about the nuances of working on cargo aircraft and jet fighters.

He anticipates that he will serve between three and four years as a Thunderbird.

Mr. McMonagle still has roots, and in-laws, in the Dover area.

“My wife (Miranda) is actually from here, she grew up here and her parents live down here, so I’ve got the in-laws here and I’m heading back to Pennsylvania (last) week,” he said.

His wife and daughter, Rosie, moved to Las Vegas, home base of the Thunderbirds, prior to his first year with the aerial demonstration team.

When it came to selecting which air shows he wanted to work, there was no doubt that last weekend’s Thunder Over Dover was the first one he circled.

“The four (aircraft maintenance structural technicians) alternate back and forth on different locations, so we get together at the beginning of the season and compile which (performances) we want to be on and who wants what,” said Mr. McMonagle.

“It’s great just seeing friends and family and being able to come to the show and bring them all out just to see what we’re all about.”

Original article can be found here ➤

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