February 22, 2011 (by A1C Yash Rojas) - Inspection team members from the 354th Maintenance Squadron remove panels on an F-16 Fighting Falcon to take a closer look at the wear and tear the aircraft may have endured during its last few hundred flying hours.
A1C. Alex Baierl checks an F-16 Fighting Falcon's jet fuel system on February 16th, 2011 at Eielson AFB. [USAF photo by A1C. Yash Rojas]
Airmen who make up the inspection team form the core unit, a hands-on team who performs the majority of in-depth aircraft system analyses. This maintenance, which aircraft must undergo every 300 flying hours, is called "phase" inspection.
Phase is one of many preventative maintenance events necessary to keep aircraft in a high level of readiness. Training exercises take up a large portion of the calendar year, so inspection teams keep busy year-round to support aircraft maintenance requirements.
Operational checks on all systems are performed in accordance with work cards that act as a play by play for Airmen responsible for the phase inspection. According to Master Sgt. Darrin Sommer, 354th Maintenance Squadron maintenance flight chief, during a phase inspection several different squadrons will aid in completing the mission on schedule.
"The flying mission could not be achieved without regular phase inspections," said Sergeant Sommer.
The inspection team has many items to examine during a short schedule. Several base agencies playing a part in getting an aircraft back to flying status, the task requires Airmen to remain dedicated as phase dock directly supports the flying mission at Eielson Air Force Base and the wing's ability to prepare aviation forces for combat.
During this process inspection teams remove aircraft panels piece by piece to identify any previous issues or discrepancies documented by the aircraft's main shop and crew chief. While looking for heavy wear and damaged parts on the aircraft, inspection teams must work well within allotted time.
"Working at the phase dock level has been a different experience," said Staff Sgt. Tyson Shaffer, 354th MXS inspection team member. "The experience has allowed me to continue to grow within a changing Air Force."
For Airmen working in phase dock there is a lot to learn and the experience provides new opportunities to work with Airmen from other squadrons on how to identify a problem and produce a solution. Aircraft crew chiefs usually work with the inspection teams to provide needed guidance and support.
"On-the-job training is very important," said Sergeant Shaffer. "I am not too proud to learn from my wingmen."
A phase inspection requires much more than a turn of a wrench to successfully and safely return an aircraft to the flightline. The dedication of the Iceman team ensures that every aircraft scheduled for phase receives focused attention before being returned to its flying squadron. These efforts have lead to a streamlined and coordinated maintenance plan, which has reduced phase duration down to nine days as opposed to the older 13-day phase inspection.