July 2, 2004 (by Shad West) - After an Air Force Thunderbird demonstration team aircraft crashed during an air show at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho on Sept. 14, 2003, the team turned to the F-16 Production Section of the Maintenance Directorate to modify another F-16 for use.
The Thunderbirds needed the plane modified in half the time in order for them to start the air show season, and so the work that usually took 120 days was done in 60.
The Arkansas Air National Guard donated the F-16 to the team and it was immediately sent here for modification in February 2004.
"I really asked a lot of my people when I gave them the assignment," Wayne Hansen, F-16 Production Chief, Aircraft Division, Maintenance Directorate said. "We had a full schedule and had to work the plane in."
"Our schedule included 85 F-16s being held to strict deadlines for their modifications within the branch," Capt. Greg Riffel, Deputy Chief, F-16 Production Section Aircraft Division, Maintenance Directorate said.
The donated F-16 with the tail designator of 86-0281
, destined to be a Thunderbird, needed a full smoke install kit and a 90 percent full-up kit. The kit consists of a devise that pumps oil into the afterburner which generates the smoke that is seen while the plane performs. Other modifications included the removal of the old paint scheme by bead blasting and prepping the body of the plane for the famous red, white and blue design recognized around the world.
"We don't paint the Thunderbird scheme here," Mr. Hansen said, "the actual paint used is an automotive grade paint."
," as the F-16 is called, was completed and turned over to the demonstration team and was used in two air shows before Hill's earlier this month.
When the Thunderbirds performed at the Air Force Academy for the graduating class of 2004, 281's paint scheme included the emblem of the Commander in Chief in the crew chief's position.
"Our guys were pretty proud when the academy folks sent the picture of 281 with the emblem on it to us," Mr. Hansen said. "We knew 281 was going to be a special plane."
281 turned out to be an outstanding addition to the Thunderbirds. During Hill's air show, it flew right wing in the performance.
Before the show, the mechanics were taken out to the flightline, where the Thunderbirds presented a lithograph to the F-16 Production Section and were told that it has only ï¿½landed code 1' which means there were no major defects upon landing.
"Planes are like cars," Mr. Hansen said, "they have different personalities." "I have been told that 281 is one of the best flyers the Thunderbirds have."
While the F-16 Production Section is proud to have turned out a winner with 281 in record time, they don't have time to sit back and enjoy its success-the Thunderbirds left the production section with tail designator 87-0329
which needs structural modifications.