July 7, 2020 (by A1C Brooke Moeder) - A team of nine 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Low Observable Aircraft Structural Maintenance personnel painted an F-16C Fighting Falcon assigned to the 310th Fighter Squadron a solid medium-gray color.
USAF F-16C block 42 #90-0765 from the 310th FS is seen freshly painted while sitting in a Low Observable Aircraft Structural Maintenance hangar on June 26th, 2020 at Luke AFB. For the first time at Luke, AMS Airmen painted an F-16 one solid medium-gray color versus the traditional dark gray on top and light on the bottom in an action that will save the Air Force time and money. [USAF photo by A1C. Brooke Moeder]
The process took approximately a week and a half, including sanding, priming, and painting.
While the single color is used at other Air Force bases, it represents a first for the 56th Fighter Wing, said Master Sgt. Michael Cleary, LO ASM senior noncommissioned officer in charge. Never before has there been an F-16 that has a one solid paint scheme at Luke; Luke's F-16s traditionally have been painted dark gray on top and light gray on the bottom of the aircraft.
A recent change to the technical data authorized the change in paint scheme, according to Cleary.
Cleary said painting the aircraft a solid color decreases the total time it takes to repaint the aircraft. The time saved, allows the Airmen to complete other tasks.
"When an aircraft comes in for a full paint, we will most likely be doing one color instead of two," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Douget, ASM craftsman. "It just makes sense of money and time-wise."
F-16s receive full paints every six to seven years and follow guidance from the technical order (TO) which outlines directions on each project.
It typically takes four Airmen a week to sand, prime, and paint the aircraft. However, the time repainting aircraft may vary due to different cure times of the primer and paint, which dictate the amount of work that can be done in a day.
"After it's done drying, we make sure that everybody goes back, takes a look at everything again, and makes sure they don't miss anything," said Douget.
Throughout the entire process of painting the aircraft, ASM personnel wear protective equipment to prevent chemicals from entering their body.
"We wear respirators with forced air, tiebacks [white suit is worn to protect every inch of skin], gas masks, and gloves," said Douget. "The respirator filters the air so you're not breathing in the harmful substances."
Aside from full paint jobs on aircraft, ASM Airmen also provide minor or major touchups on F-16s owned by the U.S. and foreign nationals, add or remove stencils and paint aerospace ground equipment. They also construct nameplates for the F-35A Lightning II. Each task takes a different amount of time depending on the varying degree of the task.
"For AGE equipment we strip it for metals technology so they can weld something and we strip for non-destructive inspection so they can inspect something we paint," said Cleary. "Sometimes equipment comes in for full paint because it's not up to standards or it has to be a different color."
Corrosion and rain erosion prevention are important considerations for ASM Airmen, said Douget. Humidity is a significant factor in corrosion, fortunately, Arizona's humidity level is low. However, the Airmen apply specialized paint to prevent rain erosion on the inlet lip and other parts on an F-16 to provide added protection from corrosion.
"We have to remove any and all corrosion from the aircraft because if you don't remove all of it, then it will continue to spread," said Douget. "That's really our goal here; to keep that corrosion at bay."
There's critical thinking that goes into getting the amount of work done needed to complete the mission. If individuals don't apply their critical thinking skills, then the mission suffers because we're not able to do things effectively, said Cleary.
Painting the F-16 one color versus two is just one example of how the AMS Airmen are thinking critically while supporting the mission.
"Our Airmen are killing it," said Douget. "I appreciate their hard work every single day."