A crew chief is a person who supervises a crew of mechanics. Crew chiefs can be found working in pit stops at auto racing facilities, hangars in airports, and other locations where equipment such as aircraft and cars are stored and serviced. The job of the crew chief is to ensure that the equipment maintenance is supervised efficiently and appropriately, so that the operator knows that it is safe and running in optimum condition.
In the military, crew chiefs oversee crews which consist of enlisted personnel. When equipment enters their work area, crew chiefs inspect it, determine what kind of work needs to be done, and delegate duties. The crew chief may be involved in some repair and maintenance activities directly, and may leave others for the crew. Crew chiefs are usually responsible for the final signoffs on weapons and safety systems, which means that they take the time to confirm that the work is done properly because they are liable if something happens.
Military work can be especially challenging for a crew chief, as well as very exciting. The military often works with the most modern technology and equipment, offering mechanics opportunities to handle state of the art systems. The flip side of this is that mechanics need to be familiar with these systems, and may handle mechanical and computer systems which require different skill sets. In addition to getting things like planes and trucks running properly, crew chiefs also need to maintain weapons systems, some of which are very sophisticated.
In the civilian world, crew chiefs are most commonly seen at work in pit stops. They keep race cars running and take care of the myriad of small tasks which occur at every pit stop, including fueling, replacing tires, checking fluids, making sure that the frame is in good condition, and so forth. A good crew chief and crew can demand high salaries for their work because of their specialized skills and intimate knowledge of the vehicles they work with. Crew chiefs also work on big rigs, keeping the trucking fleets for companies large and small in good working condition, and in maintenance hangers for airlines and cargo companies which use aircraft.
Someone who is interested in working as a crew chief has a number of ways to pursue this career. Some people learn through apprenticeship, by working on crews to learn maintenance tasks. Others opt to go to trade or technical school to certify as a maintenance specialist. People can also enlist in the military if they are interested in working with military equipment.
The term “crew chief” is also used to refer to high ranking officials in some sports, such as the head umpire in baseball.