February 25, 2011 (by Amn Davis Owsinaka) - The United States Air Force is considered the greatest Air Force in the world, and one of the reasons is because of the regularly scheduled "physicals" each jet receives.
A1C. Jacob Gonzalez, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron phase team member, inspects an aircraft using work cards during a phase inspection at phase dock three on February 17th, 2011. Phase dock members fill out work cards to ensure the jet is fixed correctly. [USAF photo by Amn. David Owsianka]
Every 300 to 400 flight hours an aircraft enters the phase dock to be inspected. During the seven days at the phase dock, crews inspect the aircraft and fix anywhere from 200-300 discrepancies.
"Normally there are only four or five major discrepancies with each aircraft," said Staff Sgt. John Williams, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron phase dock three chief. "Typical discrepancies include cracks on structural pieces, cracked closure ribs, 341 bulkheads, routing holes and fire loops."
Throughout the phase dock process, the phase dock crew will use phase cards and work cards. They include lists of inspection material to follow and check to make sure everything is done correctly and safely.
"The aircraft is split into four zones," said Senior Airman Alan Morse, 56th EMS phase team member. "Zone one is the forward part of the aircraft, zone two is the back, zone three is the top and zone four is the landing gear."
Two days prior to entering phase, the aircraft goes to the fuel shop for inspection.
The jet is broken down into the zones so as to not overwhelm the phase dock members. Each work card has a small portion of the aircraft to work on so Airmen don't have to look at the whole zone at once.
When it arrives at the fuel shop the flightline crew preps it and removes the panels. Then they refuel the jet to check for leaks, and then defuel it to fix any problems they find.
Here, technicians complete operations checks and go through inspection checklists. Panels are then replaced, and then a moderate propeller check tests the emergency power unit.
After the fuel shop finishes working on the aircraft, the phase dock will begin its process.
During the first day of inspections, the aircraft's panels are again removed so work cards and all of the major inspections can be completed during the first two shifts.
On the second and third days, a different person will go over the plane and give it a second look. The seats and canopy are removed for the egress shop to inspect for repairs. Once the electricians are done with their first and second inspections, the aircraft will be put up on jacks to fix the landing gear if necessary, complete checks and inspections.
"I have been a part of the phase dock for almost six years," Sergeant Williams said. "My favorite work to do is the landing gear because it's the most in-depth and challenging and is what I'm good at.
"After inspecting the landing gear, if we have any bad hydraulic lines, we take them out," he said. "The process normally takes about two days; we get several parts from the sheet metal shop; other parts we have to order."
On day four a different inspection takes place, and another dock crew takes a courtesy look to get a different set of eyes on the jet.
"After the 'shake down,' we fix any maintenance problems we find, which take about a day and a half," Sergeant Williams said. "After that, phase dock members will do foreign object and damage chekcs. During this time they will do a complete front-to-back inspection for any hardware or foreign objects that shouldn't be in the panels or bays."
Quality assurance members will go over the entire aircraft during a two-to-three hour phase inspection.
Once that is complete, the phase dock members begin putting the jet back together. They replace panels, do an engine run and other operations checks and reconfigure the aircraft before putting it back on the flightline.
"Mainly what we're here for is all of the major maintenance," Sergeant Williams said. "We take advantage of the time we have when the jets are down to support the pilots in any way we can.".