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Black Letter Aircraft

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- It happens less frequently than a blue moon, and is rarer than a no-hitter in Major League Baseball, but black-letter initials do happen, and the 913th Airlift Group's Maintenance Squadron made sure it did Tuesday, July 28, 2015, at the Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

A black-letter initial is just that, a crew chief's initial with black ink on an aircraft inspection Form 781H verifying the airplane has zero discrepancies. Maintenance teams often find discrepancies before and after flights which are noted on the form with red ink, but before this flight there were none.

"I've only seen this twice in 30 years," said Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Babcock, 913th MXS superintendent. "The previous ones were on newer planes. This is a 1986 model and has more miles and thus more wear and tear making it even more of an accomplishment."

 Airmen from the 913th Maintenance Squadron tow a C-130H to a nearby hangar August 4, 2015, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The C-130 is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and fulfills a wide range of operational missions in peace and wartime situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Harry Brexel)

Airmen from the 913th Maintenance Squadron tow a C-130H to a nearby hangar August 4, 2015, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The C-130 is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and fulfills a wide range of operational missions in peace and wartime situations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Harry Brexel)


Tech. Sgt. Timothy Hammonds, the 913th MXS dedicated crew chief made maximum effort to get aircraft 0419 black-lettered by spending extra time, energy and effort with his whole maintenance team.

"When the aircraft came back from depot maintenance we realized how close the plane was to being black-lettered," Hammonds said. "I knew what a rare opportunity this was to get black-lettered, and my pride wouldn't let me take a day off because I just wanted to get it there."

Like others, Hammonds had heard of a black-lettered aircraft, but had never seen or signed one.

"It felt amazing to be signing and seeing my first black-lettered aircraft. It's something every crew chief tries to achieve," said Hammonds. "You're always striving for it, and regardless of whether you get it, you always work towards it."

Not only was Hammonds' team able to get the aircraft black-lettered before the flight, but the plane returned with a "Code 1," or zero discrepancies.

"That's another rarity because typically something happens during or after the flight to causes a discrepancy," said Maj. Paul Centinaro, 913th MXS Squadron Commander. "But this is a good representation of our organization and the capabilities we bring to Team Little Rock and what we bring to the fight. We've got the experience, the expertise and put the blood, sweat and love into the job."


Staff Sgt. Brittney Johnson, a 913th Maintenance Squadron C-130H crew chief, attaches a C-130 hitch to a towing truck August 4, 2015, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The aircraft being towed recently received black letter initial status after landing with zero maintenance discrepancies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Harry Brexel)

Staff Sgt. Brittney Johnson, a 913th Maintenance Squadron C-130H crew chief, attaches a C-130 hitch to a towing truck August 4, 2015, at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. The aircraft being towed recently received black letter initial status after landing with zero maintenance discrepancies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Harry Brexel)
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