All night bright-maintenance increases operations
By Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 16, 2016
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
With the sun barely dropping below the horizon, maintenance Airmen with the 354th Aircraft Maintenance Unit work around the clock in almost 24 hours of sunlight, pushing normal limits to turn jets for the next day’s RED FLAG-Alaska sorties.
RF-A 16-2, the largest exercise of it’s kind in six years, simulates the first 10 combat sorties during the initial stages of war or a surge operation, which pushes pilots to fly jets built in the 80's to their limits, creating a 185 percent usage compared to normal flying operations.
“It gets a little sporty,” said Airman 1st Class Ty Oakley, a 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief. “We get to do thing out of the ordinary. You don't know what you're coming into when you start the evening shift. It could be something simple or it could be a whole engine you have to pull. It changes every day depending on the jet. It keeps things interesting.”
With a set number of Airmen specializing in multiple sections of the F-16 Fighting Falcons flown by the 18th Aggressor Squadron during RF-A, one of the largest challenges for section chiefs is making sure you have the right person on shift for the right job, without knowing ahead of time what that task could end up being.
“The more flying the more maintenance is the bottom line,” said Master Sgt. David Lilavois, the 354th AMXS production superintendent. “Compared to the rest of our year’s missions where we are launching far less jets throughout the day, it’s more of a challenge managing aircraft maintenance and, very importantly, getting the Airmen the rest they need.”
More jets means more hours, but since this simulates surge operations it is an excellent opportunity to train like they fight, Lilavois added. After years of turning a wrench himself and being part of operations around the globe, he said it is special being able to be part of the mission and watching newer Airmen come up through the ranks.
“Its motivating to watch these Airmen work so hard to fix a jet that was broken the day before and work through the night to get it back in the fight for the next day,” Lilavois said. “Its hard work being out there in the elements and getting the job done. You hear minimal complaining considering the hours and tempo of the work. We have a really great crew working nights preparing these jets for the other great crews who are the face of the mission during the day.”