Howard McKellip: Molding “Mission Ready Airmen”

Q: How did you get into the GSE/AGE industry?

A: I enlisted in the Air Force. Since the Korean Conflict was on and several of my friends were being drafted I thought I had better make a selection as to what branch of the service I wanted. So I enlisted with no specific career field in mind. I grew up working in my father’s service station/garages. So I guess I was destined to get into a career field that consisted of mechanical/electrical systems. While in basic training I was given a battery of tests to determine what career field I qualified for. The tests consisted of mechanical, electrical, general and administrative subjects. Based on my aptitude test scores being high in the mechanical/electrical I was placed into the automotive career field as at that time there was no Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) career field. I went to technical training at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, WY. The automotive technical training consisted of three areas. Students entered into fundamentals and received basic principles of electrical, engines (gasoline/ diesel) and chassis and drives. According to how a person scored in their written and performance tests he/she was placed into one of the three areas. I scored high in engines and electrical. After graduating from technical training I was given a special duty assignment into Security Service Command. I was sent to Germany, England and Scotland. I was assigned to the automotive maintenance shop where I performed maintenance on all types of engines. I also maintained mobile and fixed generators that supplied power needed when commercial power was not available. During this time the automotive engine/electrical career fields became one career field known as Power Generation and consequently became the now AGE career field. The first AGE shops were co-utilized with the automotive shops. However, as AGE became more sophisticated to support aircraft systems the AGE shops were placed closer to the flight lines to be more accessible to support the aircraft. I spent 26 ½ years in the Air Force as an AGE person rising to the ranks to Chief Master Sergeant the highest enlisted rank attainable. I have served in several commands and on numerous bases in the state and worldwide. The highlight of my AGE career was when I returned from South East Asia and was assigned to Chanute Air Force Base, IL, and became the superintendent of the AGE school. The AGE school was established in 1958 when training in the automotive career field was moved from Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, WY, to Chanute Air Force Base, IL. Automotive stayed as automotive and AGE became a technical training of its own. The school stood up in an old jet engine test cell building and was taught in that facility until 1974. When I returned from South East Asia in 1970 one of my first tasks was to help in the design of a new facility just for AGE training. It was the show place with special electrical and exhaust designed to operate AGE inside. The AGE school at Chanute closed in April 1993 due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The AGE technical training transitioned from Chanute to Sheppard Air Force Base, TX. As certain parts of the AGE training was concluded at Chanute personnel and equipment was transferred to Sheppard where the AGE training was continued without any lose of training time. The AGE training moved into the new schoolhouse in 1994 where it is presently taught. Again the facility is designed specifically for AGE training.

Q: What are you doing in the field currently?

A: After retiring from the Air Force I was hired into civil service at Chanute. I returned to the AGE technical training arena. I served in all areas of technical training. Eventually I was placed into training evaluation section where I evaluated all AGE training both in resident and at operational units in the field where all of the graduates were assigned. I made recommendations on how to improve technical training on AGE. I moved into the position as AGE Training Manager where I coordinated with all commands and the Pentagon on all training aspects of AGE. Another highlight of my career as a civilian and being in AGE was my participation in the Aircraft Ground Support Equipment Working Group (AGSEWG). This consists of all AGE Functional Managers assigned to all commands. Through the AGSEWG the school receives the latest state-of-the-art equipment to be taught. Another accomplishment I achieved as AGE Training Manager was being instrumental in increasing the academic training days from 81 to 106 academic days. Course equipment was updated to mirror what is being used in the field. Course teaching methodology was changed and curriculum rewritten. As a result the new graduates reporting to their first duty assignment were “mission ready airmen.” Additionally, I was instrumental in the development and teaching of new 7-level craftsman training. Two unique courses were developed. One is tailored to train Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command craftsman personnel and the other specifically for the active duty personnel. I’m now Chief of Training Support Flight and the 361st Training Squadron responsible for training in Aerospace Propulsion (Jet Engines/Turboprop), AGE, Aircraft Fuels Systems, Aircrew Life Support, Survival Equipment, Aircrew Egress Systems, Aircraft Metals Technology, Aircraft Structural Maintenance, Nondestructive Inspection and Vehicle Body Maintenance. I oversee a staff of personnel that monitor course development, acquisition of new equipment, technology insertion budget and manpower to support technical training.

Q: What trends have you seen over the years — technology, etc.?

A: Over 50 plus years I have watched AGE develop into one of the most sophisticated career fields in the Air Force. As the aircraft have become more complex the AGE systems developed along with it. I have operated and maintained equipment where everything was controlled manually. Today most everything is controlled electronically. Originally when troubleshooting equipment in some cases it was trial and error, remove and replace hoping you could find the problem. Today you have test ports, data display units that take the guess out of troubleshooting and finding problems. With these changes we have changed our teaching methodology. The use of computers, technology insertion is used in teaching and developing our courses. The writing on chalk boards or showing slide pictures and transparencies has been replaced by use of PowerPoint lessons to show flow of fluids and electrical components. A lot of animation. Graduates from the AGE courses and all other courses are far smarter and ready to perform in the operational units with less on the-job-training.

Q: What challenges have you run into in the field?

A: In technical training it is ensuring our instructors, supervisors and course developers have sufficient funds, training equipment and materials to perform professionally to prepare our AGE personnel to perform to the highest level.

Q: What is the most memorable moment in your career or your favorite part of working in the industry?

A: I have numerous memorable moments during my career. It is hard to prioritize all of the great exciting things I have done or been involved in. One that I remember above all is while I was stationed at George Air Force Base, CA. Our wing was tagged to go on temporary duty (TDY) most anywhere in the world at any time. When a squadron of aircraft went TDY all AGE to support the aircraft must also go. At that time AGE was large and it took several cargo aircraft to move the equipment. Today the footprint is much smaller. While at George we practiced mobility constantly. The practices were performed as real world situations. During practice we would get called out any time, day or night and week ends. I was in charge of AGE mobility and that was preparing AGE to be ready for shipping. The equipment had to be “pickled” or ready by draining fluids and preserving equipment 16 GROUND SUPPORT MILITARY E-ISSUE • Fall 2005V.I.P. for prevention of corrosion. One night I went home after a typical 11 hour day and my wife informed me to report back to work immediately, and to bring all of your personal mobility gear. Other times they didn’t need to tell us so something didn’t sound right. Needless to say it was the real thing. We worked through the night getting the AGE ready for shipment. The amount of AGE to be taken depended on the how many aircraft were going according to the mission. We took a complete squadron of approximately 24 aircraft. Everyone was trying to guess where we were going but it wasn’t until we were in the air we were told. I didn’t get a chance to tell my family good bye. Our destination was to Germany to fly the corridor due to the Berlin Wall being erected. At that time we had F-104 aircraft that were about the fastest in the inventory. We flew constantly and after six months were relieved by an Air National Guard unit from Tennessee who also had F-104s. That being my first real world mission exercise gave me the knowledge, experience and foundation for the rest of my military career especially my tour to South East Asia.

Q: Any advice to others in the field?

A: For those in the AGE career field you are in the best career in the Air Force. No other career field that I’m familiar with has as many different systems that an AGE person has too work on and must understand the theory and principles of operation. Like air conditioning, hydraulic test stands, air compressors, heaters, gasoline, diesel and gas turbine generators, electronic frequency converters and motor generators. My advice is to be positive and never say I can’t do that. Get involved, volunteer for jobs others are reluctant to do. AGE is a never ending learning experience. Keep an open mind and learn something new everyday. Share and communicate with your coworkers.

Q: Anything else you feel is important for our readers to know?

A: Yes. There is nothing an AGE person can’t do. AGE is the most versatile career field there is. For those retiring or leaving after their tour is up you are blessed with a skill that any employer is waiting for with open arms.