EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Automobile owners must take their vehicles in for maintenance every couple thousand miles, and for the long-term owners, some engines may require an overhaul from a licensed mechanic.
Military fighter aircraft are no different in requiring routine care and maintenance, but in the engine shop here, there is an entire team of dedicated professionals for each repair project, such as an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft engine rebuild.
When an F-16 engine is due for scheduled maintenance, or if it incurs foreign object damage, the Airmen of the engine shop disassemble the engine and inspect components to ensure perfect operation once it is back in service.
"The critical mission that the propulsion shop provides is quality spare engines to our F-16s, as well as providing the Hush House facility for engine testing," said Tech. Sgt. Jason Rood, the 354th Maintenance Squadron assistant propulsion flight chief. "This allows maintenance to proceed without any delays."
The 3,830 pound General Electric F110-GE-100 engine and the hundreds of parts that support the turbofan system present an enormous job for the 20 Airmen responsible for rebuilding it.
This preventative maintenance reduces the risk of an aged or damaged part from compromising the safety and performance of the aircraft during flight operations, ultimately preserving the aircraft, but more importantly the life of the pilot. The jet engines powering Eielson's F-16s can propel the aircraft to speeds up to 1,500 miles per hour with 28,000 pounds of thrust.
With that much power bolted mere feet from the pilots, attention to detail during engine rebuilds is of paramount importance to the maintainers.
"We have an extremely rigorous inspection system, and nothing gets past this shop without being verified on multiple levels," said Staff Sgt. Catalina Cornejo, a 354th MXS aerospace propulsion craftsman.
The entire shop, from senior NCOs to new Airmen, gets involved, and there are so many eyes and hands on the project that nothing is left out, Cornejo added.
"You have to check one set of components before covering those up, and then the next stage is checked as well," Bowman said. "This process continues every step of the way."
The level of detail required to meticulously work with the amount of components in each engine demands hundreds of man hours and several months to complete a rebuild.
"It takes one to two months with all parts available or up to nine to 10 months when we have to order parts," Cornejo said. "We also have a minimum requirement of producing nine engines per year."
Eielson's engine shop is only one of two back engine shops in Pacific Air Forces capable of providing this level of maintenance.
"If Eielson didn't have this shop and an engine went down during daily operations or exercises with visiting units, it would have to be flown out to Misawa Air Base in Japan, or even shipped all the way back to home base, halting flight operations," Cornejo explained.
At the end of an engine rebuild, the same team responsible for attaching each nut and bolt also tests the engine at the Hush House test cell on base.
Every now and then, residents across Eielson can hear the rumble of an engine burn test echoing on base. Standing at the source of that thunder will always be a small group of proud maintainers from the engine shop watching the complex creation they restored piece by piece.
"My favorite thing is testing the engine once we complete building it up," Bowman said. "It's a great feeling of accomplishment!"