During every NASCAR season, the Joe Gibbs Racing team logs tens of thousands of miles crisscrossing the country from one race to the next. Our aviation team is made up of pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, and managers who work hard to ensure every mile traveled is completed safely and efficiently. In early January, I made a trip to Joe Gibbs Racing’s hangar to see what our aviation team was up to.
[singlepic id=148 w=320 h=240 float=left]We operate two SAAB 2000 airplanes that are used for transporting our employees who attend the races each week. Typically one plane will leave midway through the week carrying the A-team, which consists of crew chiefs, drivers, mechanics, engineers, and other specialists. Then, on race day (or the night before), a second plane departs North Carolina with pit crews, sponsor reps, administrators, and other miscellaneous guests. Usually the flight crew consists of two pilots and one flight attendant, though a mechanic is typically on board for our longer trips. After a race, the two planes await about 70 people who are anxious to get home after a long weekend at the track.
[singlepic id=147 w=320 h=240 float=left]What about the off-season? Do the planes and flight crews sit dormant, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for Daytona? Not at all! Our planes undergo an extensive and thorough inspection every few years. After the 2010 NASCAR season, it was time for SAAB Tail Number 517 to go under the microscope for its 8-year look-over.
The 8-year inspection is about an 8-week process that requires an entire team of mechanics. The airplane is stripped from nose to tail. Every nook and cranny is inspected for damage, wear, or corrosion. The propellers are removed and shipped to England where they are scanned with special instruments that detect cracks or other imperfections that might pose a problem in the future. Additionally, all seats and carpets lining the fuselage and cockpit are removed to reveal the mechanisms that operate the flight controls. The flaps on the wings and tail are removed and checked out.
[singlepic id=142 w=320 h=240 float=right]The checklist for this inspection is thousands of items long. A large board next to the airplane holds all of the schematics needed to inspect each item of the plane – somewhat like a checklist. Replacing parts on an airplane is not as simple as replacing parts on your street car. Careful documentation is kept on every piece of the aircraft. Furthermore, you can’t make a trip down to your local Advanced Airplane Parts store for an off-brand part. Almost all parts are certified for use in airplanes and typically cost much more than you would expect.
The pilots are also busy training during the off-season. They spend dozens of hours in Florida at a special flight simulation center inside a life-size replica of the SAAB cockpit. There they are put to the test and dropped into a variety of situations where they have to think fast and make the right decisions. Water landing? Practiced. Engine gives out completely? They know what to do. Aborted take-off? They’ve tried it. The bottom line is, these pilots don’t want to be caught off guard when it comes to making the right choices to save lives.
[singlepic id=122 w=320 h=240 float=right]In this economy, saving money in new ways is the name of the game. Completing this extensive inspection in-house saves Joe Gibbs Racing several thousands of dollars that can go back into making our racecars even faster on the track. Even more important than saving money, however, is the increased safety these inspections provide to our passengers and pilots.
As I toured the hangar and saw the crew working on the disassembled SAAB, I realized just how dedicated to perfection our flight department is. Every person that touches our planes takes pride in seeing them fly and return to and from the races safely and efficiently. Our flight department is certified IS-BAO which means it meets a code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve high levels of safety and professionalism. This difficult-to-achieve certification is a testament to the hard work and attention to detail of our flight team.[singlepic id=149 w=320 h=240 float=left]A few weeks after my first visit, I was invited to come back to the hangar to observe the test flight of 517. The 8-year inspection had been completed the day before and the pilots and crew were eager to take her out for a spin. As I watched the plane take off for the first time since the inspection, one of the flight crew members standing next to me said, “It sure is good to see her fly again, huh?”
Two weeks later I boarded the same plane for Daytona with 40 other team members, comfortable and confident in the pilots and crew, and the plane they take such good care of.
A tip of the hat to those who spent so much time on this particular inspection: Steve C, Tim P, Ken H, Shawn H, Bob M, Riley S, Greg P, Kenny T, Jim T, Tim D, Rick O, Mike P, & Charles M.
About the Author: Boris
Boris is the man behind Joe Gibbs Racing’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Think of him as the fan’s personal connection to all things JGR. His all access pass to the track and shop mean you get unprecedented insight into the NASCAR team and drivers you love!
Boris is at the track every weekend, providing you with photos and updates from the garage. Also catch Boris on JGR: The Show and read his blog posts on JoeGibbsRacing.com. Ask Boris a question through Twitter, Facebook, or the website. That’s why he’s here!