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Phase inspectors keep A-10s in the air

by Tech. Sgt. Emily F. Alley
451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

2/28/2011 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- Every 500 flight hours, each A-10 Thunderbolt II goes through a phase inspection to search for hairline cracks, missing bolts or chafed hydraulic lines.

In the five months the current inspection team of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing has been here, they've completed twenty phase inspections and repaired more than 6,000 total discrepancies.

The inspection is especially necessary for an aircraft that may be older than the pilot flying it.

"We take off the panels, look at every item from engines, to flight controls, to each rivet holding on a nutplate for a panel," said Tech Sgt. Thomas Breining. "The aircraft drives the rest of it."

The specific needs of the aircraft, and any discrepancies, merit the attention of the subject-matter experts. Fuels, avionics, engines, sheet metal, egress and armament section leaders will each send technicians to the phase dock to repair any discrepancies.

Additionally, the non-destructive inspection, repair and reclamation, metals technology and electrical and environmental technicians will take part in phase inspection.

Armament inspectors, for example, are responsible for both the gun of the A-10 and munitions racks that are capable of supporting 2,000-pound bombs. During every phase inspection, Airmen gut the ammunition-carrying drum from the plane to inspect it and clean the gun bay.

"We see stuff we don't see at home, (such as) buildup of carbon (and) wear," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Deem, a combat armament support chief.

In fact, the 451st AEW's A-10s have set a record for Afghanistan, said Tech. Sgt. Donovan Stinson, a combat armament team chief, who estimated that they've seen the heaviest usage in the history of the A-10.

From the combined guns of those aircraft, more than 100,000 total rounds were fired within two months in support of troops on the ground in October and November of 2010, he said.

"We're seeing things nobody has seen before," he said.

In addition to their primary responsibility of phase inspections, sergeants Stinson and Deem also respond to aircraft emergencies.

One of the most challenging moments they recalled during their deployment was a weapons malfunction.

During a mission, the pilot's gun had a sudden stoppage and wouldn't clear. Once the pilot landed, sergeants Stinson and Deem met the aircraft and began to carefully inspect the gun. With live rounds in the chamber, the wrong movement could have caused it to fire at any moment.

The gun is designed to be fired only during flight. The shot is so powerful that if it is fired while the plane is sitting on the ground, the entire aircraft could be knocked on its tail.

"The nose would go up and everyone around would be bleeding from the ears," Sergeant Stinson said.

Finally, they found the problem. The stoppage, they found, was caused by several bolts that had become loose and backed out.

The gun is designed to fire almost four thousand rounds a minute, and during training, pilots try to avoid firing for continuously for more than three seconds.

"In combat, they'll go a lot longer than three seconds," Sergeant Deem said.

After fixing the weapon, the sergeants submitted a correction to their technical orders, which are universal books used by all crew chiefs, suggesting the bolts be secured to keep them in place.

The extraordinary amount of wear that phase inspectors see at Kandahar Airfield gives them an opportunity to see how the aircraft will respond under stress, and how it can improve.

"It's a good system," said Sergeant Stinson of the A-10. "It's been around forever. Not a lot of cars the same age are used as much as this plane."

Despite the quality of the aircraft, or any improvements, the inspectors said they are still meticulous. Unlike a forty year old car, an aircraft can't just pull over when something breaks.



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