EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
“This jet is a stud,” said U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Ian Bennett as he looked up at the number nine jet while the rest of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 F-18A Hornets lined down the ramp, each significantly less used.
Bennett, a power line technician with the squadron based out of Miramar, Calif., is one Marine who maintains the jet, which is holds the highest flying hours in the Marine Corps’ F-18A Hornet inventory. With 9,748 flying hours, the jet will be retired for parts or another useful purpose shortly after the 10 sorties and travel involved with RED FLAG-Alaska 16-2.
“It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Anthony Tilelli, the VMFA 314 officer in charge of maintenance. “In development these jets were designed to fly 5,000 hours. When they hit the fleet, that was raised to 6,000. Now we are pushing the originally intended target 100 percent to 10,000 till a jet is sent for a new purpose.”
With each jet at least 2,000 hours behind number nine, Bennett and Tilelli agree on one thing, “This jet likes to fly.”
“Flying with the most hours hasn’t stopped this jet, in fact, it just goes,” Tilelli said. “Although it is often more work, it is absolutely imperative to keep all our jets working perfect for this exercise. It’s no different than a real life operations; it is our responsibility to provide the combatant commander with the requirements he asks for.”
“Born” April 8, 1987, number nine holds the lot number 163137. It has served around the world in contingency operations in the Middle East and then showcased as a U.S. Navy Blue Angel. Now, it is showing its grit in the premier training exercise in the Arctic.
“The biggest challenge being here with jets of this age is parts,” said Bennett. “When you look for certain replacements you hear, ‘We don’t make that anymore,’ ‘That’s on back order,” or ‘We are going to check a scrap jet for that.’ That just shows age is catching up with them.”
However, this doesn’t stop the team of more than 150 maintainers from keeping this fleet aloft.
“We get creative,” Bennett explained. “You have to adapt and overcome these hiccups. There are a ton of bright Marines ready to offer solutions and keep the ball rolling, getting these jets off the ground, winning the fight and arriving back home safe.”
RF-A 16-2 will keep jets in the air through 10 simulated combat sorties flying over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, a more than 67,000 square mile airspace, including one conventional bombing range and two tactical bombing ranges containing 510 different types of targets and 45 threat simulators.
“Eight thousand hours is a high-mileage jet,” said Tilelli. “With the 10 sorties here we will push most of these jets into Life Limiting Repair Maintenance, which is due every 50 hours on airframes this old.”
Pushing those 10 jets, regardless of the amount of flying hours, is what shows the perseverance of the U.S. Marine Corps. The reward for the maintainers comes at the beginning and end of each launch.
“Being hands on and physically in and around these jets daily you create a bond and ownership over that piece of equipment,” said Bennett. “To see all the jets take off and come back safe is a great feeling every time.”