March 26, 2004 (by Eric L. Palmer) - Repair of unique damage like formation mid-air's means that sometimes the USAF turns to very specialized people. For the F16, that is usually the 649th Combat Logistics Support Squadron or "CLSS" unit.
These units are unique in that they are an intereasting blend of aircraft maintenance and logistics specialists. When not at home doing specialized work, they go anywhere in the world to work on aircraft that get into special trouble.
The following story is a great snapshot of the CLSS
mission and a must read for every person who is interested in the F-16. This time a sergeant who normally only gets to work on jets, gets a ride in an F-16D two seater which he helped lead the effort to fix after it suffered serious damage. Damage that was so serious it took more than two years to fix.
Sergeant rides F-16 he fixed
Written by Gary Boyle, Hilltop Times
The pilots were flying a routine night exercise when they became disoriented. The F-16s were flying fast and tight when one flew beneath the other, clipping the bottom of the fuselage with the missile on its wing. The missile fins sliced open the Falcon like a soda can, cutting through seven bulkheads including the 243-fuselage station located directly behind the pilot?s seat. The damage was severe but since it was a rare two-seat D model it was essential the aircraft be returned to service.
It would take the 649th Combat Logistics Support Squadron more than two years to repair the aircraft. Master Sergeant Gary Newman, who was promoted during the repair process, supervised the repair as he has for a multitude of aircraft over his 19-year career watching from the ground as the jets were flight tested. This time, however, the former sheet metal worker got the ride of a lifetime over Utah?s western desert as he sat in the back seat as the Falcon took to the sky for the second time after its repair in as many days.
"It was incredible. We flew out over the Utah Test and Training Range and around Antelope Island at about 600 miles an hour. We went into a turn and pulled nine Gs. It was a lot stronger than I thought it would be. As we went into the turn I got tunnel vision and all I could see was a little green dot," said Sergeant Newman. "Maj. Mark Proulx talked to me while we were flying and told me what we were going to do next. He let me handle the controls and I was trying to imitate the trick moves he had done, but I didn't have much success. The stick is a lot more sensitive than I thought. It's not like in the movies - all it takes is a slight touch."
Sergeant Newman's brother Tom and nephew Dylan got a flightline seat at their relative's aerial acrobatics.
"They were really excited to be here. My nephew keeps asking me when we can do it again, said Sergeant Newman. "My whole career I've fixed aircraft and handed it over to the pilot when I was done, this time it was me in the seat. I've been with this aircraft since it got here, so it's nice to see it fly and then take it for a ride."
The repair on the aircraft was the first of its kind for an F-16D model as no other similar F-16 has been split at the 243-bulkhead for repair. Sergeant Newman went to Lockheed's assembly plant in Texas to see how the aircraft was assembled to gain insight on how to take it apart for repair. While there, he came across some fixtures for the plane to rest on and asked Lockheed if he could acquire some for Hill. The company complied charging the Air Force a nominal fee. The fixtures reduced the time to separate the aircraft into two parts from six months to a few days.
The $1.2-million repair job took approximately 26,000 work hours to complete with the majority of 649th CLSS airmen involved at one time or another. Repair support came from across the ALC with civilians taking part from the avionics shop to the fuel shop.
"We don't have these resources in our hanger so we rely on the center's assets and those are invaluable to completing this work. We work hand in hand with the civilian work force in that way," said Sergeant Newman. "It came to us on a flatbed truck broken; now we are on budget and on schedule to deliver the plane March 31."
Sergeant Newman will leave the Air Force later this year but his impending retirement hasn't dampened his commitment.
"Every time a plane I've repaired leaves it's like a little of me leaves with it," said Sergeant Newman. "But now it's ready to fly and I'm ready for it to go so I can get started on the next one."