Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jets require 'health' assessment to stay fit to fight

by Staff Sgt. Stefanie Torres
51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Senior Airman Christopher Blackstone, 51st Maintenance Squadron phase crew chief, applies lubrication to the nose landing gear struts of an A-10 here, March 7, 2012. Blackstone is applying the lubrication to ensure points are able to maneuver freely without corrosion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Adam Grant) Hi-res

3/7/2012 - OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Airmen are required to be fit to fight, and same goes for aircraft.

Osan's F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs are constantly flying. Just like Air Force members are required to get an annual health assessment, aircraft go through a similar process through the phase dock.

"Our aircraft go through an in-depth inspection after so many hours," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Torres, floor chief for the phase dock process. "During the phase process, we are looking at areas that we don't normally look at when (aircraft) are on a normal flying schedule."

Jets are taken through an extensive inspection that requires them to be taken apart and pieced back together in order for maintainers to view every detail of the aircraft.

"Once the jet comes in, they de-panel it, start removing parts and perform leak checks, and they also look for cracks and anything else on the aircraft that is not normally seen on the flightline."

Jets go through a lot of stressors and have some natural wear and tear, especially as aircraft parts get older, Torres explained. Often maintenance crews can patch up the planes and go, but for every 500 hours of flying, a more extensive maintenance process is required.

The aircraft go through two phases; phase dock teams are allotted five days in the first phase and 10 days in the second phase. Specialized equipment can be used to pinpoint problems that can't be physically seen as planes are disassembled and pieced back together.

Senior Airman William Lavender, 51st Maintenance Squadron non destructive inspection journeyman, uses electric currents to look for cracks that can cause structural problems later.

"The machine sends off what is called an eddy current, and if there is a crack, the current will come back and show it on the machine," he said. "We also X-ray certain parts and go through the sheet metal shop to see if we can fix it. We do what we have to in order to get the plane flying again."

Attention to detail is especially important when it comes to the safety of the aircrew and to keep the aircraft in good condition.

"There are critical inspection areas that we look at, and some areas have a higher chance for something to be wrong, so we pay close attention to that," Torres said. "Each piece is critical to the aircraft, so we make sure that those areas are good to go and that there's nothing damaged, broken or out of limits. So it's important to make sure that the aircraft are structurally sound and we continue to give aircrew safe, reliable airplanes."

After the process is complete, the jets are reintroduced to the flightline and ready to fly again. Phase dock personnel then repeat the process with another aircraft due for a "health" assessment.

Senior Airman Christopher Blackstone, 51st Maintenance Squadron phase crew chief, applies lubrication to different parts of an A-10 here, March 7, 2012. The lubrication placed on the different parts of the aircraft ensures the aircraft maneuvers properly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Adam Grant) Hi-res

Note: That's a rare view of a raised A-10 tail cone.


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