Becoming an Air Force Crew Chief

Worker holding tools in airport hangar
••• Monty Rakusen/Getty Images

Duties and Responsibilities

As you can imagine, keeping an aircraft worth hundreds of millions of dollars in tip-top shape is a complex process. Serious teamwork between airmen in several different Air Force Specialty Codes (AFSC) is vital to make it happen.

In that group, the tactical aircraft maintainers are commonly known as "crew chiefs" because they're generalists who coordinate the aircraft's care and call in the specialists (like avionics or propulsion technicians) when they find a problem. In other words, if the jet were a patient in a hospital, the crew chief would be his primary doctor, coordinating with specialists in radiology, psychology, and the like as needed.

The Air Force Enlisted Classification Manual (PDF) describes the crew chief's duties in four broad areas:

  • Day-to-day maintenance, including "end-of-runway, postflight, preflight, thru-flight, special inspections and phase inspections."
  • Diagnosing malfunctions and replacing components.
  • Detailed inspection, record-keeping, and administration.
  • Supervision and coordination of aircraft care, as well as such varied duties as "crew chief, repair and reclamation, and . . . crash recovery duties."

Military Requirements

Like most other technicians, crew chiefs need to have a normal color vision to get the job. They must also pass a background check with eligibility for a secret security clearance.

Air Force recruiting literature recommends anyone interested in "aircraft, electronics, computer science, engineering, maintenance, and repair, [or] physics" may find this career engaging. But regardless of their interests, before enlisting, recruits must graduate high school and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) with a qualifying Air Force mechanical score of 47 or higher.


Day one in the Air Force begins, for everyone, with basic training at Lackland Air Force Base Texas. Airmen contracted as crew chiefs stay on in Texas, at least initially, for technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base.

It's hard to say how long the rest of a crew chief's initial schooling takes. This official fact sheet 404 from the Air Force claims initial training at Sheppard lasts close to three months, though that probably won't include training on a specific aircraft.

See, it's up to the Air Force which aircraft a particular crew chief will train to work on, so if you've got your eye on a favorite, you may be out of luck. After learning basic principles, airmen may be assigned to specialize in maintenance of such craft as F-15 or F-16 fighter jets, the A-10 Thunderbolt, training aircraft, helicopters, the U-2 reconnaissance plane (not the band) or the one that's set to replace most other jets, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Where and how long a crew chief trains depends on which craft the Air Force assigns.

Those assigned to work on F-16 fighter jets, for example, move on to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona to finish training. In a 2009 public affairs article, Captain Kimberly Hollenback -- then commander of the training program at Luke -- described an F-16 crew chief's schooling as "four months at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and one month at Luke," where final training consists of a short 20-day program, mostly outside the classroom.

Alternately, Airmen destined to work on the (relatively) new F-35 may find themselves concluding training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. But, again, course length may vary.

Certifications and Career Outlook

With additional training and testing, the Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) Credentialing and Education Research Tool (CERT) tells us crew chiefs may want to look into some of these professional certifications to bolster their resume:

  • FAA-Certified Airframe or Powerplant Mechanic
  • Certified Aerospace Technician
  • Certified Manager
  • Certified Production Technician

CCAF also offers an Airframe and Powerplant Certification Program that helps airmen get FAA certification using on-the-job experience and online courses.

Following a career in the Air Force, crew chiefs may work as aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics or technicians, though the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts that field will grow "slower than average" through 2020. This may be one of those fields where, if you enjoy the military, a 20-year hitch to retirement isn't such a bad idea.

  • USAF F-22 Raptors in formation

    F-22 Raptor Air Force Fighter Jet

  • US Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter in flight

    The Many Marine Corps Jobs in Aircraft Maintenance

  • Crew members prepare an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a training sortie.

    Air Force Job (AFSC 2A3X3) Tactical Aircraft Maintenance

  • Aircraft Carrier

    The Difficult Job of a Navy Construction Electrician

  • The Blue Angels aircrew flying in formation over Pensacola Beach, Florida.

    Overview of 8 Great Air Force Aircrew

  • The Marines, metro Manila

    Marine Corps Crew Chiefs

  • Ejection Seat

    2A6X3 - Aircrew Egress Systems - AFSC Description

  • Learn More About Air Force Aerospace Maintenance Jobs

  • Air Force jet cockpit

    2A5X3 Integrated Avionics Systems - Air Force Jobs

  • Air Force Basic Military Training trainee fires at his target while wearing his gas mask.

    Becoming An Air Force Combat Controller

  • Staff Sgt. Shamir Moore, 58th Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, tightens a parachute cord before repacking a MC1-1D parachute June 24, 2013, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Airmen inspect each parachute to ensure there are no frayed cords or rips in the canopy.

    All About a Career in Air Force Aircrew Equipment

  • An Overview and Guide of Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas

  • Silhouette of helicopter flying over remote landscape

    2A5X2 - Helicopter Maintenance - AFSC Description

  • Marine Pilots

    Do You Have What It Takes to Become a Marine Corps Pilot?

  • Bee On Metal Structure Against Sky

    Navy Enlisted Rating Job Descriptions Builder (BU)

  • A combat rescue officer communicates with the HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter crew

    What Does an Air Force Spectrum Operations Personnel Do?