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Maintainers keep aircraft soaring

by Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/13/2010 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Airmen from the 451st Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron maintenance flight keep A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft up and running, enabling them to provide close-air support throughout Afghanistan.

By performing phase inspections after every 500 hours of flight, they make sure the aircraft are in the best condition possible to support the warfighter and operations here in Afghanistan.

"Every 500 hours we have to take a harder look at things that you don't normally look for during a regular preflight or basic post flight inspection," said Senior Master Sgt. David Wade, the 451st EMS maintenance flight chief.

During phase inspection, the aircraft is removed from service and all the panels are removed. All components of the aircraft are inspected, including landing gear, engine operations, door rigs and flight controls.

Approximately 25 Airmen work two 12-hour shifts each day to complete both the look and fix phases within four to five days.

"Normally, at home, this process takes 15 calendar days, which is eight to 10 duty days," said Tech. Sgt. Emery Makany, the 451st EMS phase section chief. "The fastest we've done it here has been in 55 hours flat."

The maintainers look for structural integrity, serviceability of parts, and system operation.

"We're able to put out phases in less than half the normal time because we're working around the clock," Sergeant Wade said.

"And it's not just our folks who work on those aircraft," he said. "We rely heavily on the armament flight, the fabrication flight, the aircraft maintenance specialists ... all of those people have a job to do on the phase."

The maintenance flight also consists of the repair and reclamation shop and crash recovery experts who respond to in-flight emergencies and ground emergencies for coalition and U.S. forces.

"We do all the flight control ratings on all the primary flight controls," said Master Sgt. Robert Bierma, the 451st EMS repair and reclamation aero repair shop section chief. "We also rebuild and resupply supply stations with wheels on tires. We go through and remove the old skins to put new skins on, air it back up and return the tire to service."

If an aircraft comes down with an in-flight emergency or ground flight emergency, it is parked on the runway as soon as possible. Once the runway is clear, the crew responds to remove the aircraft from the runway.

"Our technical order's time frame for removing an aircraft from the runway is 10 minutes," Sergeant Bierma said, "From the time the aircraft hits the runway to when we actually hook up to it, tow it off the runway, then actually open that runway back up."

"The repair and reclamation shop provided top-notch support to an F-16 (Fighting Falcon), which recently landed on Kandahar Airfield with an engine malfunction," Sergeant Wade said. "They coordinated weapons download and towed the disabled aircraft to the phase hangar where the A-10 phase dock supported the maintenance recovery team."

The aircraft was fully mission capable in less than 24 hours.

"The maintenance flight is a team of first-rate Air Force professionals and I am lucky and proud to have served with them," Sergeant Wade said.

"What we're doing here is really quite amazing considering all the experience level of all the guys we've had," he said.

He also described his Airmen as being very motivated, and "just couldn't wait to get over here to get the job done."

"Motivation is insane," he said. "A lot of these guys are first-time deployers. We may have three veterans of deployments. They're not terribly experienced, but that's the nature of the beast. Sink or swim. And they jumped in head first and really started swimming. Everything they were weak in, they learned to improve on. Everything they didn't know, they learned to do."

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