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F-16s gear maintenance is 'big issue'

February 4, 2007 (by Scott Schonauer) - The Air Force Materiel Command’s chief officer said engineers will try to look for ways to alleviate the workload required to maintain the aging F-16 fighter jet’s landing gear.

Gen. Bruce Carlson met with senior staff from the U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters during a brief visit last week. Maintenance group commanders for the various wings attended the meeting and pointed out that maintaining the F-16 landing gear was one of their biggest and most important concerns.

The Air Force requires wings to perform an inspection on the F-16s landing gear every 1,600 flight hours. The inspection takes about 150 hours.

"We knew it was an issue, but we didn't know how important it was and what impact it had," Carlson said Wednesday in an interview with Stars and Stripes. "Today we came back with a new sense of urgency on those things."

The gear maintenance issue is a "big issue," Carlson said, because the Air Force is trying to trim airmen from the ranks. That means wings will have fewer people to do such maintenance.

He said the command would focus on finding ways to possibly cut the workload.

"We're going to go back and work real hard with our engineers to [determine]: Is there something we can do to decrease the amount of time it takes to do that inspection? Is there something we can do to increase the time between inspections?" Carlson said.

The 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy and the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany have squadrons that fly the F-16.

Wing leaders also expressed concern about a decrease in simulator training due to budget cuts, Carlson said. The Air Force has tried to reduce flying time in real fighters by having pilots stationed at bases across the globe participate in virtual exercises using the latest flying simulators. The Air Force calls it "distributed mission training."

"That has much more utility in Europe, where our ranges and our air space and our weather sometimes significantly limit our ability to train," he said. "So, distributed mission training has much more incremental value over here than it might have in the desert in the southwest United States.

"So, cuts to distributed mission training that come out of the budget have a bigger impact over here in Europe."

The Air Force Material Command routinely visits the Air Force's major commands to listen to concerns and find out how to improve support. Capt. Chris Watt, a USAFE spokesman, said command staff members have visited Europe previously.

The command's headquarters, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, is responsible for developing and supporting all Air Force weapons systems.

Published on February 04, 2007 in the European edition of Stars and Stripes.
Used with permission from Stars and Stripes, a DoD publication.
© 2007 Stars and Stripes.