MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
Most of Misawa’s Airmen retire from working once the sun sets, but for some maintainers, nightfall is the beginning of their day.
Dedicated crew chiefs with the 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron play a role in sustaining the 35th Fighter Wing’s investments to project airpower and meet its security commitments in the Pacific region by ensuring jets are fully mission capable.
“Crew chiefs are kind of like the jack of all trades when it comes to working on the aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Byron Cole, a 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief. “We work on landing gear components and flight controls; we dabble in electronics and work on moving insulation for the jet, as well as assisting engine personnel with their components.”
Even with so much on their shoulders, 1st Lt. Kayla Pipe, the 14th AMU chief of operations, said crew chiefs always keeps a lookout for when the F-16 Fighting Falcon need their six-year operations check, as the jets are staggered with dates enabling the fleet to continue to strategically distribute its posture and presence over a wider geographic range at any given time.
“Every six years we completely remove all landing gear components and bushings on the F-16,” Cole said. “We collaborate with metal technicians to turn in all of those components to make sure they are not worn and popping in and out of the aircraft.”
Whenever they find anything defective, the part is repaired or replaced, and with many little tiny pieces things can get messy.
“The operations check process for F-16 gear is a little hard to describe,” Cole said. “It produces a lot of really mushy lube, and the smell of hydraulic fluid heavily hangs in the air. The change is slimy, dirty and grimy, but it is fun.”
Cole added time to execute this process varies with each crew and situation.
“The process can take anywhere from three days to a week or a week and a half,” Cole said. “It depends on serviceable components or if there is anything wrong with the airframe that requires immediate repairs.”
Once everything is looked over and completed, Airmen prepare for a post-flight inspection, showing the speed and versatility crew chiefs need for putting jets in the sky.
“Our biggest thing are the inspections we do. Inspections are the bread and butter of what we do,” explained Cole. “They are key because they are the last look over before we approve it for flying. If we miss anything, it could result in a serious injury.”
Cole said weather provides another challenge for crew chiefs because they’re constantly looking over the aircraft and how it is affected by Misawa’s snowy and cold climate.
“I’ve been to other bases that are snowy and Misawa takes the top,” said Cole. “We are constantly de-icing the aircraft, which means we have to chisel ice in and outside the hangars. The weather here adds a lot of extra pieces to the puzzle.”
Still, while facing the odds of Northern Japan’s climate, they press on and get the job done, and Cole said the hard work really pays off when the crew’s name is branded on the jet.
“These aircraft are our babies,” Cole said. “When we finally get our names on our jet we definitely feel proud because we know that’s something we earned from proving ourselves by putting our time in.”
He added their pride in wanting to always provide the best service to the jet shows in their everyday work when pilots look to them for a reliable aircraft.
“They are the aircraft experts we trust when we literally put our lives in their hands to fly the jets they tell us are safe and ready to go,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Kenkel, a 14th Fighter Squadron pilot. “The bond and trust between crew chiefs and pilots goes back to the earliest days of aviation. Without them, Misawa doesn't turn a wheel, project combat power, or build partnerships with any of our regional allies.”