KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea --
There are certain accessories required to keep drivers safe, such as air bags, seatbelts, defrosters and windshield wipers. Along with automobiles, aircraft also require an assortment of accessories to assist pilots as they navigate.
To keep pilots safe, Airmen from the 8th Maintenance Squadron accessories flight work to provide timely and technical maintenance to aircraft assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing. The flight breaks down into four sections: electrical & environmental, egress, fuel and hydraulics.
“Without our technical expertise, fuel systems would not be repaired, ejection systems would not be maintained, electrical and environment systems would fail and hydraulically activated aircraft systems would not be tested or repaired in a timely manner,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Johnston, 8th MXS accessories flight chief. “Lack of these skills could ultimately result in mission failure to include aircrew injury or even death.”
To prevent the worst from happening, Airmen and civilians routinely train and practice safe procedures to ensure aircraft are safe to fly at all times.
“We ensure the Wolf Pack is ready to fight tonight by providing trained, skilled and technical professionals that are available to service, troubleshoot and remedy malfunctions related to their specialty,” Johnston said.
One part of providing skilled service to aircraft involves making sure the birds in the sky have enough gas to make it from point A to point B. The fuels section is responsible for inspecting and repairing aircraft fuel systems, in-flight refueling systems and other related components across F-16 aircraft.
“Not being able to move fuel through an aircraft is like driving a car without gas. It won’t go anywhere,” Johnston said. “Our Airmen ensure aircraft fuel systems operate at peak performance.”
Fuels Airmen are also responsible for the maintenance and servicing of 272 F-16 external fuel tanks, which include the inspection and certification of war readiness material fuel chambers.
“Whether we’re out training or doing the real deal, it’s cool to know that I’m a valuable asset that plays such an important role,” said Senior Airman Jacob Clark, 8th MXS fuels systems journeyman.
The hydraulics section also plays an important role in taking the fight north.
“We are responsible for supporting the flight line, phase dock and aerospace ground equipment flight by rebuilding hydraulic components,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Manczka, 8th MXS hydraulics section NCO in charge. “Our team refurbishes approximately 50 brakes each year at 84 thousand dollars per assembly.”
From start to finish, the process takes 4 to 5 days and includes two other sections within the 8th Maintenance Group for inspections and paint.
“For instance, AGE may come over with a bomb lift that’s ruptured, and they’ll ask us to make a new one.” said Staff Sgt. Aljhaun Bordenave, 8th MXS hydraulics section chief. “We’ll rebuild it, test it and get it back into serviceability.”
Rebuilding and testing equipment is also part of what Airmen do in the egress section. They are responsible for maintaining ejection seats and canopies.
“We perform egress inspections on each ejection seat every 30 days or any time the integrity of the system is disrupted,” said Staff Sgt. Angelo Lowe, 8th MXS egress craftsman. “These recurring inspections are used to visually identify any issues or concerns that could interfere with a pilot’s ejection.”
The section also performs a complete tear-down of the ejection seat every 36 months.
“We have peoples’ lives in our hands,” Lowe said. “We need to ensure that aircrews have the ability to escape, return to base, get into another jet, and continue to take the fight north.”
While the egress section enables pilots to escape a life or death situation, the electrical and environmental section also literally works to breathe life into pilots as they defy the forces of gravity.
“We repair and maintain 39 aircraft parts, including aircraft batteries and liquid oxygen converters,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Maestre, electrical and environmental section NCO in charge. “Our section also sustains the serviceability of 18 liquid and gaseous oxygen & nitrogen carts, utilized to service breathing and emergency aircraft systems.”
They also perform phase inspections every 400 hours, which encompass performing an “overhaul” on emphasized areas of the jet.
“Every technician in the section looks beyond the repair of a defect or changing of a part, as they approach each task with an effort to put out a solid product, or reliable aircraft,” Johnston said. “They examine around the area of emphasis, finding more areas for improvement.”
Examining all aspects of an egress system is essential because the equipment is necessary to allow pilots to breathe as they ascend into higher levels of the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Maintaining oxygen systems is a life supporting endeavor, by means of upholding proper flight physiology,” Johnston said. “The guidelines are very strict, removing any potential for contaminates to be introduced into the aviator breathing system, which if compromised could result in the loss of a 18.8 million dollar Air Force asset, or worse, a pilot’s life.”
Moreover, from electrical and environmental team members ensuring pilots have liquid oxygen to egress Airmen perfecting the serviceability of an ejection seat, the accessories flight continues to ensure aircrew members can safely soar into the wild blue yonder.
“I can’t recall a time where I have worked with more motivated and professional Airmen than I do now,” Johnston said. “I am continually amazed by each section’s ability to expertly maintain such a technical weapon system as the F-16.”