April 19, 2011 (by SrA Amy Adducchio) - The 178th Fighter Wing has been tasked with upgrading all 160 of the Air National Guard's F-16 Fighting Falcon block 30 radios.
"The problem with the airplane now is with the VHF/ UHF radios that are in it; they're line of sight airplanes. In other words, if they can't see who they are talking to they can't communicate," said Senior Master Sgt. Phil Bennett, project manager.
"They've found in Afghanistan especially, with the mountain ranges, that when an Army guy needs help---needs air cover or needs assistance from air, the chain of command was that they had to call their command, their command called the air base, and the air base called the airplane so there was a great lag in time," said Sergeant Bennett. "[With this upgrade,] the guy can call the airplane directly no matter where he is. He gets real-time help."
The beyond-line-of-site upgrade will give the pilot the ability to communicate with anyone at anytime. It will also allow the pilot to maintain UHF, VHF and satellite radio, with the option to prioritize one of them.
In order to upgrade to BLOS radio, aircraft must first have secure line of site installed. Approximately 80 percent of ANG
F-16 Block 30s have SLOS. For those that do not, Sergeant Bennett's team must first configure the system for SLOS, and then they can perform the BLOS upgrade.
Hill Air Force Base, Utah, performs depot maintenance for the F-16 including modifications and repairs. It can also permit repairs if technical data for a fix is unavailable. The F-16 depot approved Springfield Air National Guard Base to perform this upgrade across the ANG, which benefits the depot , Springfield ANGB and the ANG as a whole.
"To the unit, [this project] is keeping people employed through September, until they go off to their schools and new jobs," said Sergeant Bennett.
"It's been really good for the other Guard units because they may wait in line for a year at depot because depot's so busy, and here we can turn these out relatively quick..." said Master Sgt. Gregg Wyatt, an avionics technician who has worked as instructor with this project.
In November, the first two airplanes to be upgraded arrived, as well as engineers from the F-16 depot and Lockheed Martin.
Senior Airman Kyle Bryant, an avionics technician; Staff Sgt. Steve Smith, Aircraft Flight Chief; Staff Sgt. Jason Schrenk, Avionics Mission Specialist; and Tech. Sgt. Tony Morgan, an electric shop technician, took the lead in learning how to perform the upgrades.
"We have books to assist us, but the best thing is really to show somebody and have the hands-on learning. You can't really just pick up a book and do it," said Sergeant Wyatt.
"They showed us the (engineering) drawings. They assisted us in reading those, because most of us had never seen those before. Once we got past the first jet it wasn't bad. There's still a little of learning to do," said Sergeant Wyatt.
Senior Master Sgt. Bucky Turkelson and Sergeant Bennett went through the requirements and work cards with the engineers to check that all required changes were included and to eliminate any work that wasn't really necessary. Through this process, they managed to trim down approximately two working days.
To streamline the process, Sergeants Turkelson and Bennett wrote job standards and created binders including work cards, associated pictures with parts marked, and a quick reference guide.
"We've got it down to a science pretty much now, where airplane comes in, we print all the stuff out, it goes in different binders, and as we go through it, we sign the stuff off," said Sergeant Bennett.
The BLOS upgrade takes 10 working days. If SLOS is also needed, it adds an additional 5 working days.
"[Our technicians] have really, really got it trimmed down. We're actually doing it a little quicker than the depot, but we're doing other things for the units too," said Sergeant Bennett. "The depot doesn't fix some of the little things that we come across and go ahead and fix."
The target is to upgrade six to eight F-16s per month and complete 90 by end of the fiscal year when this mission at Springfield Air National Guard base ends.