Anthony Claes is a Belgian Air Force Adjudant-Major who has been in the military for almost 28 years now. From graduation in the late seventies he has worked on the F-16 project in the electronics department right from the introduction of the aircraft in the Belgian Air Force till the current conversion to MLU.
Anthony: I enlisted on September 1st, 1977 as candidate Non Commissioned Officer in the Belgian Air Force. I had no previous experience with a military life whatsoever.
F-16.net: Why electronics? And why the F-16?
Anthony: Ever since I was a young boy, I had a fascination with aircraft, making model airplanes and buying magazines. Back in those years it was not easy to find work and especially with only a high school diploma. So I decided to make my hobby my work and applied for technician with the Air Force (having to wear glasses banned me from piloting). Electronics seemed to be the future and looked like a challenging career. Little did I know I was right on the mark. As for the F-16, I happened to get in at the right time. The F-104G (Starfighter) came to an end and while in technical training school, all of us had to pass some tests in our second year to see if we were eligible to work on this new fighter. Obviously I passed and I have never had any regrets. Getting into this field gave me an opportunity to visit other countries and untill now I have never stopped to learn new technologies.
F-16.net: What is your every day job?
Anthony: Being senior in my field, I now pilot a desk most of the time, I perform desk analysis for problems that arise in different test stations. Either with the boxes they are testing or with their test equipments itself. I am also doing the software management for all of the F-16s of the Belgian Defence (that is if it is coming from USAF). I also represented the BE AIS community several times during PMR meetings.
F-16.net: You're talking about AIS? What does it stand for and what are they made for?
Anthony: AIS stands for Avionics Intermediate Shops. Let me put it this way. The F-16 avionics is a modular system, just like the radar consists of different boxes (we call them LRU's: Line Replaceable Units). Every time an aircraft makes a sortie, one of these systems may have a failure. The pilot reports this in his after flight and then maintenance control on base requests an intervention from the appropriate section on base to test the aircraft. Those guys determine the faulty box (LRU) through the aircrafts BIT (Built In Test: test software imbedded in the aircraft). They pull the faulty box and run the BIT again and if it checks out OK, they send the removed box with the aircrafts write-up back to the AIS.
Now we get to work. We hook-up the failing LRU to the test station and using appropriate test software start to troubleshoot the failing box. This troubleshooting gives us one or more of failing SRU's (Shop Replaceable Units). Those are the next level. Printed circuit boards, connectors, chassis,etc. AIS gets the LRU back operational, sends the failing SRU to a depot test station for repair and then the LRU goes back to the flight line for future aircraft repair.F-16.net: The F-16 has experienced a phenomenal (r)evolution over the years? What has been the most remarkable change over time, according to you?
Anthony: The Belgian F-16s fly for 20+ years now. In my field I have seen a lot of updates. What amazes me is the amount of sheer calculation power and miniaturization our boxes have gone through. Back when I was a young Sergeant, you had a computer weighing 25 kilos and having 36 SRU's in it consuming a lot of power. Now the same box with 20 times more capabilities, having 8 SRU's and using up only one fifth of the power is going down for repair to us after flying 10 times longer.
F-16.net: The MLU update has an enormous impact on the operational usage of the F-16. Is this also the case for the AIS specialist?
Anthony: Just look at the previous question you asked. But this also has another impact. You have to match your repair capability to the demand. In the early days we did much more in-house because the investment in test equipments was appropriate to our operational demands. Now it must be a balance between operations and value for money. The balance, however, is difficult because a lot of LRU's have simply been replaced. Also a lot has been upgraded and you have a mix of old and new. We are now learning what needs to be done and what we need to get done. But it still is a fine balance and sometimes it is frustrating because my gut feeling tells me we could do a better job for less, doing it in-house.
F-16.net: With the introduction of the different software tapes of the MLU new capabilities are constantly added. Are there any major changes coming up in the near future?
Anthony: The F-16 has always been an evolving system so sure, new capabilities will be introduced. At my level however I can only guess at how it will evolve for the BAF. The equation between keeping the F-16 alive beyond a certain age or going for a new aircraft depends on the airframe. As long as that is sound and all your wiring does not start to deteriorate, you have a viable system. You also have to take into account the mission you want to accomplish. The F-16 should normally be in our airspace till at least 2015 and yes it still is evolving.
F-16.net: Are we currently facing the end of the F-16 developement, or are there any major structural upgrades planned for the airframes (besides the MLU software changes)?
Anthony: Again, I can only guess. But you have to take into account the age of our Belgian aircraft. They are mainly 1980's and an airframe can only take so much. I can only say that when I was in Forth Worth in 1996, the test pilots there were referring to the MLU F-16 as the 'HOT RODD'. They loved to fly it. It was as powerfull but lighter than the C/D model and had the same capability as a weapons platform or beyond.
F-16.net: What with the successor? An active topic or a 'far-away-from-my-bed' show?
Anthony: Are we going to have another comparable fighter aircraft after the F-16? I do not know. I do care. But given the actual situation it seems to me that everything is going to a European defence. What the task of the Belgian defence will be, I do not know. I can only hope that our pilots and all the support people in fighters, transports and all the knowledge we have built up, may it be with F-16, C-130, helos, will be put to good use. I also think that I will be retiring about together with the Viper around 2014.
F-16.net: You're doing this work for almost 28 years now. Doesn't it ever get boring?
Anthony: No, never! But probably I was a lucky one. I was at the right spot at the right time. New enhancements came on line and they needed to train people to maintain it and follow courses to implement the new stuff. And there was I. I also always volunteered to follow the training and start up new equipments. I liked the challenge. I guess that about the time I retire, the F-16 will be going also, but the Viper (as it is called now (back then the Fighting Falcon)) was, is and will always be a great airplane. I will always be proud of having contributed a small part in it's great history.
F-16.net: Thanks for the interview!
- Adjudant-Major Anthony Claes was interviewed online by Bjorn Claes in February of 2005 -
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