86 MXS, 86 AMXS launch ‘black letter’ aircraft


Story & photos by
Airman 1st Class Jennifer Gonzales
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A C-130J Super Hercules aircraft sits on the flightline on Ramstein Air Base, Aug. 29. The 86th Maintenance Squadron and 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron labeled it as a ‘black letter aircraft,’ which meant that it came out of maintenance without any discrepancies.

After going through a long checklist, on Aug. 29, the 86th Maintenance Squadron and 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron pushed out an aircraft known as a ‘black letter’ aircraft.
Initially, the C-130J Super Hercules came in with 10 discrepancies, but during 12 days of isochronal checks, the team ended up finding approximately 145 more issues.
“The aircraft reached a remarkably rare zero defect condition that is commonly known as ‘black letter’,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Norris, 86th AMXS dedicated crew chief. “This means that there are zero defects documented and no known negative conditions associated with the aircraft.”
It’s routine for crews to make repairs on aircraft that land here to ensure they’re safe for their next takeoff. The 86 MXS and 86 AMXS perform numerous checks after a plane lands. They document each and every discrepancy, then put the aircraft through periodic stages of repair.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Norris, 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, watches the propellers spin on the black letter C-130J Super Hercules aircraft as it prepares to launch on Ramstein Air Base, Aug. 29. Norris was the dedicated crew chief of this aircraft.

“We do A, B, and C isochronal inspections,” said Tech. Sgt. Michael Case, 86th MXS aerospace maintenance craftsman. “We take them in, inspect them, fix anything that’s wrong, put them back on the flight line, refuel them, put the armor back on, and launch it.”
“If it weren’t for the dedicated crew chiefs, I don’t think a black letter would’ve been possible,” said Case. “Our guys down in isochronal put a lot of work into this bird. They put a lot of hours into it.”
The aircraft was signed off as ‘black letter’ after the repairs, then launched at 10 a.m. local time and was scheduled to fly sorties before its return at 7 p.m.


Airman Jaden Thompson, 86th Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance apprentice, secures seats in the back of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft on Ramstein Air Base, Aug. 29. Pulling the seats down and securing them is part of the final pre-flight preparations.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Pravel, 86th Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance craftsman, reads a pressure gauge on Ramstein Air Base, Aug. 29. Pravel checked the tire pressure of the black letter aircraft as part of a pre-flight inspection.