Before the flight: Maintaining excellence is universal

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Luke Kitterman
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
After organizing tools and making sure all equipment was accounted for, a crew chief took a second to stand up and remove his noise-cancelling ear protection.

With his ears freed, he could now hear the distant sound of four F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft, the very aircraft he and his fellow Airmen were just working on, taxiing down the runway.

He turned in the direction of the noisy jets and watched as they maneuvered into position preparing for takeoff. Finally, one after another, the F-16s sped down the runway and elevated into the sky until all four were air born and fading into the distance.

That was it. The mission of the 52nd Maintenance Group Airmen to get the aircraft in the air was complete and successful. But what was the process? People unfamiliar with the responsibility of maintaining an aircraft will not know of the time, effort and coordination that went into creating the 15-second result the crew chief just witnessed.

It is the job of more than 100 Airmen, assigned to the 52nd MXG at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, to provide support for five F-16s during exercise Trident Juncture 2015 at Beja Air Base, Portugal.

Preparing a single F-16 for flight involves completing a lengthy checklist and multiple Airmen specializing in more than five different maintenance career fields. Of those specialties, the crew chief can be thought of as the focal point for ground operations.

"We are a jack of all trades and a master of none," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Christopher Pridgen, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief. "We do a little bit of everything pertaining to the aircraft. The position requires coordinating with all other maintainers to make sure the jet is air worthy."

Some of the other specialties Pridgen spoke of include weapons load crew members, avionics maintainers, electrical and environmental systems technicians and engine specialists.

"Weapons supply the aircraft with bombs and make sure they are safely attached," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Wesley Calloway, 52nd AMXS aircraft section NCO in charge. "Avionics ensures that all flight control systems, sensors and radios are working properly. Electrical and environmental technicians take care of the power generating systems, ensuring proper electrical output to each aircraft component, and lastly, the engine specialists focus solely on the motor. That is their baby."

Each job has specific tasks that need to be completed in order for all of them to reach the shared goal of getting the F-16 in the air as safely as possible .

Calloway describes what the jet represents when it is finally flying.

"It's a culmination of everyone's hard work and dedication," Calloway said. "You take away anyone of those maintenance specialties and we are going to have issues getting the aircraft up. We rely on one another to be the experts in every aspect of the jet."

Trusting the Airmen around them, the maintainers have used their teamwork to complete flying missions every day of Trident Juncture 2015, an exercise involving more than 30 allied and partner nations conducting air, land and sea training with one another to improve operational capabilities.

The nature of the exercise is providing a unique experience for the 52nd MXG Airmen allowing them to not only bond internally, but with other nations' maintainers as well. 

"This exercise is definitely different," Pridgen said. "With it being a NATO exercise, we get to work alongside other nations' maintenance crews and train, teach and learn with them. That makes it a lot more fun. We get to talk to them and see how they do things."

Viewing other nation's tactics and techniques on pre-flight checks gave insight and understanding between maintainers for future reference.  

"Working with the other nations is a huge positive," Calloway said. "Building interoperability between everyone is why we are here. In the future, if we need to call upon our fellow NATO members and partner nations for help, we will have already built a relationship to make the process seamless."

No matter the type of aircraft or nation that owns it, there is a universal standard of excellence throughout the maintainer career field to make sure that aircraft is prepared for any mission it is tasked. That type of excellence is the foundation that is providing NATO members and its partners with air-power superiority to create security in their regions.