by TSgt. Shawn McCowan
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Note: Pictured is A-10C 80-0188 (marked 188 FW as "boss bird") from the 184th Fighter Squadron, 188th Fighter Wing (Arkansas ANG).
8/16/2012 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN -- Hiding on a corner of the flight line, a humble team rolls one A-10 after another through their makeshift hangar; an oversized tent. Their workload is both intense and intensely important. They complete their deployed tasks in a fraction of the time allotted in training, while adhering to the strictest of standards. Without them, the Air Force would have to replace its entire flying inventory every couple of years.
The Phase Inspection team assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron can disassemble, inspect, and reassemble most components an A-10 faster than most auto repair companies can replace a transmission. That kind of efficiency requires an ideal combination of management, skilled technicians, and a strong sense of teamwork. The Bagram Phase team has all three.
MSgt Gary Childers manages workflow for the entire Phase process with his team, most of which deployed with the 188th Fighter Wing's "Flying Razorbacks," at Ebing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Ark. The Phase team consists of about 40 Airmen from 12 work centers in two squadrons. That means each team member has to be familiar with many systems on the aircraft.
"Phase" covers 300 separate inspection points covering nearly every inch of the aircraft. Because of the critical and intrusive nature of Phase inspections, their work is 100% inspectable. This work requires thoroughness like no other.
It normally takes teams of eight Airmen as long as 30 days to complete a Phase inspection on an A-10. But in a wartime environment like Bagram, the war can't wait. So the same team works 24 hours per day in 12-hour shifts. Their non-stop effort has a huge impact on the inspection's completion time.
The same month-long process is completed in as little as four days.
Once an aircraft is due for its Phase inspection, it is rolled into their inspection hangar. Then the A-10 Phase team begins the first day by pulling the aircraft apart, panel by panel, from every direction. Days two and three are spent performing inspections, repairs, and reassembly and operational checks to ensure each part functions properly. By day four, the aircraft gets a final once-over, and is rolled back out to the flight line for its next mission.
The high day-to-day operations tempo can be just as hard on aircraft as it is on people. Aircraft like the A-10 are sent to Phase inspection after every 500 flying hours. According to Childers, that number comes around about every two years at a stateside Air National Guard unit. In Afghanistan, the aircraft reach 500 hours nearly every three months.
Childers says one of the major benefits from his team's busy workload is the experience they gain. He estimated they get a year's worth of training every month. What may be most amazing about the team's accomplishments is the experience they had prior to arriving.
"At least half of my team have been out of technical school for two years or less."
But Childers says the work pays off when the aircraft rolls out.
"You get a sense of pride when you get the plane together, they load it up with bombs, and you know what it's going out to accomplish. You see what your work is accomplishing. At home the mission is training. Out here it's real."
One member of the Phase team with a bit more experience than the others is SSgt. Dustin Ponder. Prior to his current assignment, he had already worked on A-10s and the C-17 Globemaster III. Ponder says he is impressed with the team's professionalism.
"Everyone knows what they're doing. We get a game plan, and everyone gets a zone to work on. And we're here 24/7, so we can get it done fast," said Ponder.
Ponder paused while removing an air conditioner vent to sincerely tip his wrench to his co-workers.
"I've been with a couple of units. I worked on A-10s before this in Germany. Everything here goes on as a team unit. And this is bar-none the best as far as camaraderie. Everyone gets along probably the best I've ever seen. But we still get things done fast."
Capt. Jason Woodruff, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Operations Officer, paid a visit to the Phase hangar during an inspection. The Smethport, Penn., native, is assigned to an F-22 unit at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. But he was not shy about his respect for his current unit's Phase team.
"When they pull the jet into this hangar, these guys are on it. There are 20 guys working on this jet at any one time. They're all tearing into it, they like their job, and they know the benefit of getting that jet out onto the line to fly. These guys are doing an awesome job turning these jets, to get them back into the air to fight the mission," said Woodruff.
The hot Afghanistan sun crawled from one side of the hangar to the other. By the next time they see the sun, their current aircraft would likely be getting ready to depart for its next mission.
Maintainers with the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron remove an ammo drum from a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II during phase maintenance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, August 8, 2012. Phase maintenance is a comprehensive inspection and tune up performed on USAF aircraft at certain flight hour intervals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy)
Note: That's also A-10C 80-0188 (marked 188 FW as "boss bird") from the 184th Fighter Squadron, 188th Fighter Wing (Arkansas ANG), named Fort Smith as visible in this picture again. Hi-res
Maintainers with the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron work on a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II during phase maintenance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, August 9, 2012. Deployed Aircraft endure increased flight hours and more combat maneuvers, which increases the need for routine maintenance and inspections. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy) Hi-res
Note: Probably the entire photo series pictures A-10C 80-0188 (marked 188 FW as "boss bird") from the 184th Fighter Squadron, 188th Fighter Wing (Arkansas ANG).
TSgt. Robert Haag, an aircraft phase maintenance specialist with the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, works in the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II during phase maintenance at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, August 9, 2012. The Airmen adhere to a strict schedule of maintenance to keep Bagram's aircraft safe and operational. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy) Hi-res
Source (including 13 photos)
Please note: Some more pictures will be uploaded soon.