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Airmen keep Litening pods striking

by Master Sgt. Andrew Gates
455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs

8/25/2004 - BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- As A-10 Thunderbolt IIs patrol over Afghanistan, one piece of avionics equipment is extremely important to them providing unparalleled close-air support to ground forces.

The Laser Infrared Targeting and Navigation pod gives A-10 pilots a number of options to search out enemy forces and protect ground forces. The Airmen who maintain it said they realize how important this tool is to forces supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

"We're responsible for (maintaining) Litening pods," said Senior Airman Christopher Dalbec of the 354th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. "We also keep statistics on the pods -- for example, what problems the pods are having, and how many hours the pods are flying."

"This pod is one of the main reasons the A-10s are so invaluable here in theater," said Tech. Sgt. Greg Goyea of the 354th EAMXS. "It's been called one of the most valuable assets in theater. It's a very valuable tool for pilots -- it makes the plane much less dependent on ground forces."

Maintaining the Litening pod is fairly simple because the system has on-board computers -- somewhat like those in modern automobiles -- which tell the maintainers what system is not working, Airman Dalbec said.

Of course, the system is not always perfect, and the avionics experts sometimes have to resort to the old standby -- troubleshooting problems to keep the pods working -- especially if that problem is with the wiring in an A-10 instead of solely with the pod.

"Since the pod wasn't made for the A-10 (it was originally developed for the F-15 Eagle) the mating was a little different," said Senior Airman Jon Rendulic of the 354th EAMXS. "When we first got here, we had a lot of bugs we had to work out with the aircraft."

The Airmen had about three weeks of technical training and two months of hands-on training before arriving here, said Airman 1st Class Steven Brooks of the 354th EAMXS. This matched up with the time A-10 pilots had to practice.

"While the pilots were training with the pod, we got the opportunity to train to fix it," Airman Dalbec said.

The preparations for the pod started long before that, Sergeant Goyea said.

"We prepped the entire Eielson [Air Force Base, Alaska] A-10 squadron about six months before we got here," he said. "We had to put in the wiring modifications and make sure everything was ready for the pod."

Because critical components on the pod are relatively self-contained, the rampant Afghanistan dust does not affect the equipment as much as the avionics Airmen anticipated, Sergeant Goyea said. Most of the repairs on the pod involve removing a component, replacing it and sending the broken part back to the manufacturer for repair. Repairs to the wiring and communications links in the A-10 are still the avionics team's responsibility.

Although dust does not affect the equipment, heat does to an extent, Airman Dalbec said.

"We see more (problems because of) heat (than) anything else," he said. "An eighth of the pod is for cooling. Seven parts, the forward section and six line replaceable units, all need to remain cooled."

Keeping the complement of pods here working is a daunting task, but one the Airmen are quite capable of, Sergeant Goyea said.

"These guys are the heartbeat of the Litening pod's success here," he said. "They are, without a doubt, the best pod technicians in the entire Air force."

These technicians said they know how important their mission is.

"Our country has asked us to perform a certain job," Sergeant Goyea said. "We're proud to be able to do it to the best of our ability."

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