Keeping the Fighters in the Fight

  • Published
  • By Air Force Master Sgt. Christopher Stewart
  • 114th Fighter Wing

Airmen of the 114th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron phase inspection element keep the squadron of F-16 Fighting Falcons stationed at Joe Foss Field, Sioux Falls, SD combat ready.  The stressed placed on fighter aircraft during flight, necessitate routine disassembly, inspection, repair and reassembly to make sure each system and subsystem is functioning per Air Force Instructions.


Keeping the 114th Fighter Wing’s squadron of F-16s in peak condition is no easy task as it demands a high degree of precision and attention to detail.  The Airmen of these maintenance back shops are up to the task.


“Every 400 flight hours the aircraft will go through the phase process,” said Master Sgt. Matt Hummel, 114th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron phase inspection supervisor.  “Almost every maintenance shop on base has a tasking in the process.”


The process is orchestrated by the phase shop, but each individual maintenance shop will have specific tasks to complete.  As Airmen start to remove many of the panels from the aircraft, Airmen from the engine shop come in and begin the process of removing the jet engine.  Soon after avionics Airmen come arrive to work on instruments in the cockpit.  Soon the F-16 will be towed to the fuel barn were all of its fuel lines, pumps, cells and bladders will be examined and checked for leaks, excessive wear, and foreign objects. 


“Much of the wiring and hydraulics of the F-16 run through the fuel cells,” said Tech. Sgt. Tyler Christiansen, 114th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron fuels technician. “Many other shops run inspections and do repairs while the fuel cells are open and being inspected, and we work hand in hand with them to finish their tasking.”


All of this falls under the initial Fuel Phase.  Following the Fuel Phase, the aircraft moves through the Look Phase, where all the shops inspect and test their components to find any hidden issues.  Followed by the Gear Phase, that focuses on the functionality of the landing gear, breaks, and wheels.  Once complete, the maintainers begin the Fix Phase where all the aircraft maintenance shops come together again to repair problems found during previous phases.  This occurs while the engine is being reinstalled.  Once all know problems are addressed, the aircraft goes through one last look for quality assurance and the panels are put back on.  The final day includes multiple ground tests to ensure all systems are up and running within regulations.


The detailed process of disassembling, inspecting, and reassembling of the aircraft takes a tremendous amount of time, as well as the involvement of many specialized aircraft maintenance back shops on base.  Each shop inspects, and if needed repairs, the portion of the aircraft they are responsible for.


“On average the process takes around 24 working days,” said Hummel.  “The process typically requires around 1500 man hours to complete.”


These numbers go up dramatically if the aircraft is found to have any major issues, but the Airmen of the phase inspection element would not have it any other way.


“I love this job,” said Tech. Sgt. Beau Bartscher, 114th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron phase mechanic.  “There is nothing more rewarding than watching the jet you helped to rebuild, launch and recover safely during its next flight.”


Through their hard work, attention to detail, and dedication, 114th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron phase inspection Airmen are ensuring the South Dakota Air National Guard will continue to maintain ready and reliable units and have equipment and facilities which support both federal and state missions.