By Angel MedFlight Contributor
When it comes to maintaining a state-of-the-art fleet of aircraft and having that fleet exceed FAA safety requirements, an expert dedicated to passenger safety is needed to oversee the maintenance program. The combined operation of Aviation West Charters and Angel MedFlight Worldwide Air Ambulance is fortunate to have Director of Maintenance Dwain Chase, who has brought decades of award-winning experience and vision to the company. With his team of expert technicians, Chase has helped Aviation West Charters and Angel MedFlight maintain a perfect safety record, a record that has been recognized with an ARGUS Platinum rating and Stage-1 IS-BAO registration.
To understand Chase’s work ethic and love of airplanes, one has to go back to his childhood. Born and raised not far from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, Chase would lay in his bed at night and listen to the planes running their engines on the ramps. “When the wind was right, you didn’t get the smell from the stockyards, you got the noise from the airport.” On weekends, his father would put the kids in the back of the pickup truck and take them over to the airport to watch the planes land.
As a child he remembers working on cars with his father, who worked as a machine repairman at AiResearch in Phoenix. Chase says his father, “kept the lathes, the grinders, and the machine centers working” at the turboprop and turbocharger manufacturing company.
Chase actually began taking things apart and putting them back together long before he can remember. His grandmother would tell the story of little Dwain resisting a nap, and instead using a butter knife to take the lock assembly off the door in the utility room to go outside. “She caught me and gave me a whoopin’, as they said and sent me back to take my nap.” Later, his grandmother came to get him and told him to put the lock assembly back together because she couldn’t.
Whether he was toiling at his grandfather’s gas station back in Indiana during the summers or working on a farm, Chase was always working on something or fixing it. With his father’s paycheck providing for six kids, Chase says the children were encouraged to fix things around the house. “But we weren’t supposed to tear stuff apart just to see what made it tick. We didn’t have money to replace the stuff,” he says with a chuckle.
In high school Chase took part in a summer program at AiResearch, working in repair and overhaul. “In high school I was able to take a trade course as an aircraft engine technician. I’d go to class in the morning up at East Phoenix High School and then we’d go down to Phoenix Union High School for the trade class.” Chase also worked the morning shift at a gas station before beginning his school day . He also worked weekends at Cutter Aviation “just cleaning up.”
In 1974 Chase was given the “Outstanding Aviation Student Award” by Ottosen Propeller in Phoenix. “That kinda was the hook,” says Chase. When he went down to pick up the $25 prize he inquired about working at the company. But Chase says the owner discouraged him telling him he didn’t want to work on just props — but that he’d be happier “doing the whole thing.” That stuck with Chase, who after finishing high school attended Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz., which had an aircraft program. By this time, Chase had received work experience for going to school and had acquired enough hours to take the FAA engine exam. At Cochise College, Chase says, “All I had to take were the air frame and general parts so I was able to get out of there in about six months with both licenses.”
Soon after, he followed in his father’s footsteps and got a job at AiResearch. He actually worked for the company at the same time as his father but in different departments. “He was in maintenance and I was in repair and overhaul.” But Chase was “bored silly” with the repair and overhaul job. “It was the same repetitive thing day after day after day” working on jet fuel starters. From there it was on to Beechcraft in Wichita, Kan., working as a delivery mechanic on the King Air line. “New aircraft would come out, they’re sold off the line. They’d come over to the delivery hangar, we’d prepare the aircraft for flight. They’d fly them and we’d work the ‘flight squawks’ off and deliver them to the customer. In other words, they’d work all the bugs out.
Chase’s career path would take him to Swift Aviation where he would revolutionize maintenance tracking. While at Swift, Chase developed an automated tracking program that alerts technicians when an item is approaching required inspection or replacement. This, of course, helped to ensure safety and compliance with FAA regulations. Chase says long before these advancements, mechanics were recording maintenance on little recipe cards, with virtually each aircraft having its own box of cards.
Dedication and inventiveness. While working at Swift, Chase remembers spending an entire weekend at home developing a database for all the aircraft at Swift and a computerized spreadsheet that as Chase tells it, worked off a street light principle. Aircraft that were a ways out from inspection were highlighted in green. As aircraft got closer, the color changed to yellow to remind the technicians that something was coming due. “Then usually in the last 25 hours, it had red block in it so it was telling you this particular item was due,” says Chase. Soon after, the FAA came to examine Chase’s system and to see how Swift was able to track the work in real time. He says he presented the system to them, they liked it and that he’s pretty sure Swift was still using his system after he left the company.
Nowadays, aircraft maintenance management companies like CAMP and CESCOM are working in real time. Chase says, “You can go in and update your information online, it takes it, it accepts it, and you print a new report within five minutes.”
Chase speaks humbly about developing the automated maintenance tracking program. But it’s this vision and inventiveness that led to Chase being named the FAA’s National Maintenance Technician of the Year in 2000. “It was a great honor but I worked around a group of people who have also had that award,” Chase says. “It was almost like a validation of sorts. Not so much to the rest of the peers but for those guys that I worked with that had reached that level.”
Chase has also been named the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association’s Technician of the Year along with the FAA’s Regional Maintenance Technician of the Year. Not once, but twice the FAA chose him as the Arizona Maintenance Technician of the Year.
For Chase, company achievements trump individual honors. “When (Aviation West Charters) exceeds the expectations of people I get greater joy out of that. When the company succeeds, I feel I’m a valuable part of that. I don’t need it to be about me. Everybody I work with — I try to help improve them, whether it’s getting them knowledge or gaining them more experience. ”
Chase, like Aviation West Charters and Angel MedFlight, always looking to gain knowledge and improve. It’s people like Dwain Chase that help ensure this air ambulance company exceeds expectations and that patients are given the safest and most comfortable air medical transportation.
See more of Chase and Angel MedFlight’s commitment to safety in this video: