SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
When the pilots of the 480th Fighter Squadron finish flying their F-16 Fighting Falcons for the day, the work of the men and women of the 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron begins.
The 52nd AMXS works in three shifts, each shift accomplishing a specific role to ensure the pilots and aircraft assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base are able to continue honing their skills, protecting the U.S. and its allies while deterring adversaries.
“Mid shift will inspect the aircraft before flight,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Benjamin Klitzke, 52nd AMXS weapons load crew member. “Day shift will launch and recover jets and service them with oil and fuel throughout the day. Swing shift will accomplish most of the scheduled inspections and fix anything that might have been broken during the day.”
The 52nd AMXS spends thousands of hours every year ensuring the aircraft of the 52nd Fighter Wing are ready to accomplish any mission they are assigned.
“On average it takes 19 man-hours to produce a single hour of flight for the F-16,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Clint Sickel, 480th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent. “So when you look at the nearly 6,000 flight hours this unit produced last fiscal year that equates out to over 113,000 man-hours that the men and women of Warhawk Nation invested in keeping the 52nd AMXS the Air Force’s premiere aircraft maintenance unit, and the 480th Fighter Squadron the most well trained and lethal operators the Air Force has at its fingertips, should the need arise.”
The members of the 52nd AMXS were recently recognized for their excellence by the U.S. Air Force.
“The 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron recently won the Headquarters United States Air Force Maintenance Effectiveness Award,” Sickel said. “The MEA annually recognizes the maintenance unit that has best met the objective of providing safe, serviceable, and available equipment for sustained use in peace time and war time. The award specifically focuses on mission accomplishment, innovative and effective use of resources and personnel quality of life programs.”
The job of being a maintainer in AMXS can sometimes prove difficult.
“The most challenging part of aircraft maintenance is that you are always aiming at a moving target,” Sickel said. “The aircraft always get a vote in how your day goes, and what the manpower demand is going to be. We can positively impact that through sound, quality maintenance and getting things fixed right the first time, which is exactly what the Warhawks do.”
Additionally, the F-16 airframe itself can present its own unique challenges.
“The F-16 is the most compact aircraft in our fleet, the components inside reflect that,” Klitzke said. “Most jobs on this aircraft require a lot of finesse to accomplish. For example, installing the gun on an F-16 takes about three to four times as long as it would on an F-15, as we have to work around the small frame of the aircraft.”
Other differences of F-16 aircraft include the work performed by flightline maintenance members.
“F-16 maintenance differs from most other fighters in that as crew chiefs we handle all the Air Force Specialty Code specific on aircraft maintenance,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Vanderwolde, 52nd AMXS dedicated crew chief. “We remove and install our flight control surfaces, landing gear, etcetera. We also accomplish all riggings and operational checkouts for components that require them.”
The efforts of the 52nd AMXS empowered the 52nd FW to accomplish numerous training missions over the past year.
Sickle said that after executing nearly 4,800 sorties and 6,000 flight hours, the AMXS helped maintain an 84.4 percent mission capable rate. They also enabled critical training and integration with EC-130 aircraft for the first time since the Cold War era, played pivotal roles in several training exercises with U.S. allies and helped five successful Russian-aircraft intercepts during a squadron deployment.
In addition to all the mission accomplishments AMXS empowers, the job presents its own rewards and sense of satisfaction.
“The most rewarding part of being an aircraft maintainer is watching that aircraft takeoff after you struggled and fought with it all night long in diagnosing and correcting a failure that didn’t have a clear-cut path on what the fix was going to be,” Sickel said. “When you watch that can light off and she rumbles down the runway, it makes every drop of sweat and minute you poured into it worth the sacrifice.”