Guardsman Celebrates 21 Years with Same Plane

MSgt. Norbert Feist, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chef, inspects the right wheel well on aircraft 1004 on Aug. 30, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. Feist has been the dedicated crew chief for aircraft 1004 for 21 years. USAF photo by MSgt. Eric M. Sharman.

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION, Southwest Asia—In December 1996, Norbert Feist was hired for a full-time crew chief position with the Minnesota National Guard, and assigned to a brand-new C-130.

Twenty-one years later, he’s still with aircraft 1004. According to his records, he’s spent 2,500 hours with it. And he’s not done yet: Feist, who is now a master sergeant, will have served 23 years with the same plane by the time he retires.

It’s a “long time,” Feist said with a laugh. “I got lucky and never had to move.”

Being assigned to the same plane for so long has its perks: Feist said he has really gotten to know the intricacies of the plane.

“It’s just silly things, like my crew door. It’s always been tough to close, but you have to make it tough to close or it won’t pressurize,” he explained. “The right paratroop door’s been heavy, heavy and doesn’t really pop open quite right,” but four people have tried to fix it over the years, with no luck.

The interphone in the plane also is “always having issues,” Feist said.

The other airplanes have their own quirks, too, he added.

“Twenty-one years of it … you get to know that stuff,” Feist said.

Feist, 48, grew up 10 minutes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in Minnesota, and said he’s always had a fascination with airplanes; the first airplane his neighbor taught him to identify was a C-130.

He enlisted in the Active Duty Air Force in 1987, and said that at the time, he “didn’t even realize there was such a thing as the Guard.” He remembers thinking, as his father dropped him off at the Military Entrance Processing Station, that he would never live in Minnesota again.

Feist first discovered the Guard during an exercise in Korea, where he was impressed with Guardsmen from Missouri.

“I was like, ‘Holy cow, these guys really know what they’re doing,’” he recalled.

Feist served in the Gulf War, then left the service in 1991. He was on terminal leave, working as a baggage handler for Northwest Airlines, when he decided to join the Guard.

“I hated Active Duty so bad I was running for the hills, but I missed the airplanes,” he said. “I would have never dreamed I would be a technician.”

Feist was assigned to the aircraft as a crew chief when he was hired full time in 1996, but became the head crew chief 12 years ago. He said he actually went to the factory to pick up one of the Guard’s other airplanes, 1005, but 1004 “is mine.”

The job is “a jack of all trades, master of none,” Feist said. The crew chiefs service, ground handle, and inspect the airplanes, though they can’t be an expert in everything.

This is Feist’s ninth and final deployment, he said. He was last at this base in 2002, and said the only thing that’s different now is that the airplane has new brakes.

Though he’s been deploying with the same unit since 1991, and they always take their own planes, his aircraft hasn’t deployed with him since 2004.

“It’s been a rock star on this trip. It’s the one,” he said.