April 5, 2010 (by SrA Jessica Lockoski) - "For Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon technical support, Press 1."
SSgt. Jack Williams, 35th AMXS phase technician, fixes an exhaust gas temperature harness on a jet fuel starter while Robert Farnsworth and Richard Holmes AFETS technicians, provide over-the-shoulder assistance on April 5th, 2010 in Hangar 909. AFETS technicians provide technical support for aircraft maintainers when Airmen need assistance beyond their basic problem solving methods.
Calling technical support and troubleshooting to solve problems is a common method for fixing issues. However, answering operational questions on high-ticket items such as Misawa's F-16 fighter jets, takes more than calling a customer service representative.
Six engineers from the Air Force Engineering and Technical Services team here provide technical support to maintainers and aircrew when F-16 troubleshooting leaves Airmen puzzled and scratching their heads.
"We become engrained within the maintenance group as technical advisors," said Mark Rupprecht, Misawa's AFETS team lead. "We get hired based on specific specialties that mirror what the maintainers do."
With the F-16 aircraft airframe being about 30 years old, Mr. Rupprecht said keeping the jets in top form increases challenges, such as electrical malfunctions and flight control issues.
"There can be something significantly wrong with the aircraft that will exhaust the technical instructions maintainer's use in order to troubleshoot it," he said. "They have done everything they can, and they still can't fix it; that's when we come out."
Work areas AFETS team members specialized include airframe, propulsion, avionics and weapons systems. In many cases, technicians are prior military and posses numerous years of experience with the F-16s and other fighter aircraft.
They also belong to an Air Force-wide community of more than 400 members, whose headquarters is based at Langley Air Force Base, Va. With communal information sources to tap into, AFETS technicians can find a solution to almost any F-16 problem.
Mr. Rupprecht said networking with other AFETS members and having working relationships with Lockheed Martin (the designer of the F-16) are valuable in solving the hardest problems. Relying of a larger team allows technicians to gain lot of access to engineering and design system theory and database of information devoted to problems found in past F-16 troubleshooting.
After finding technical solutions, AFETS members explain their finding with the maintenance Airmen. The technicians provide formalized classes to teach trouble shooting techniques and overview new testing equipment as it becomes available with the evolving aircraft.
Staff Sgt. Courtney Franks, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-16 Avionics craftsman sometimes relies on AFETS technicians when he needs additional expertise.
"I was working a flight control problem," said Sergeant Franks. "It was pretty obscure, so we called an AFETS guy up, and through his resources, he pulled a short list of fixes for the problem."
Sergeant Franks said the technician shaved off about two weeks of troubleshooting time for the maintainers.
"I will always give him an ear to what he has to say, because he was right on it," Sergeant Franks said. "I don't think we would have found the problem anywhere near as fast if he hadn't been around to help. AFETS technicians are always that stop-gap between, 'Darn if I know,' and 'You guys have really seen that problem before - help us out!'"
Flightline maintainers aren't the only group of people who applaud the technicians. Misawa's AFETS team has been recognized by both the Air Force and Pacific Air Force over the last three years, which illustrates the expertise the team brings to the fight.