MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
“It's extremely loud, windy and you can feel the whole building shake. You can feel the blood flowing through your body. It sort of makes it feel as though you're floating,” said Staff Sgt. Casey Jones, a 35th Maintenance Squadron test cell aerospace propulsion craftsman. “Standing inside the test bay while the engine is at full afterburner is a unique experience.”
One can feel this sensation within the "Hush House", a building that is anything but what its name insinuates. "Hush House" is an F-16 Fighting Falcon engine testing facility.
The test cell Airmen are a part of the propulsion flight, whose mission is to build and repair F-16 jet engines to support the constant flying mission of five fighter squadrons across three fighter wings in the Pacific- the 35th, 51st and the 8th FW.
The test cell's part in that mission is to ensure an engine is fully built and to test it with an engine run before it’s put into an aircraft.
From outside the building, the sound of a roaring engine is practically inaudible. However, the same cannot be said when you take a step inside the test bay while the jet engines run at ear-splitting full-volume afterburner.
“Our job is loud, smelly and dangerous,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Gray, the 35th MXS test cell aerospace propulsion section chief. “We take all technical orders and Air Force Instructions regarding operations and safety very seriously, ensuring the safety of personnel and visitors as well as the safety of the engines we test.”
When running an engine, everyone has a specific job to do. There is a required three-person minimum to run an engine.
Ground personnel stay in the test bay with the engine, checking for leaks and discrepancies and listening to the engine’s pitch.
In the test cab, just outside of the test bay, the run supervisor looks at all the limits and parameters of the engine, ensuring everything is in the correct range. The recorder documents the data received during the engine run.
“We can't rely on just the sound of the engine to tell if there’s something wrong,” Jones said. “We monitor software that reads all of the engine's parameters to determine if something is inaccurate. However, if the engine is making a noise or pitch that isn’t normal, it’s not too difficult to tell.”
Similarly to a car, at certain revolutions per minute (RPM) settings, the engine should make a certain sound or pitch. When certain tests are ran that alter that pitch, the sound of the engine is expected to change.
“For instance, when we shut down the engine, it spools down and you can hear all the parts on the inside clanking around and slowing down,” explained Jones. “That's a normal sound for us. If we hear some type of weird binding or grinding of parts, that would sound different, depending on how big the problem.”
By ensuring every engine installed in an F-16 is serviceable and operating at acceptable performance levels, the test cell aerospace propulsion flight contributes directly to the ‘Fight Tonight’ mission, the crucial Wild Weasel suppression of enemy air defenses mission, and day-to-day deterrence efforts.
“We are the sole F-16 centralized repair facility for the Pacific,” said Jones.
Between the troubleshooting and repairing of engines across the Pacific, the CRF propulsion flight repairs an average of 50 engines each year.
There are two test facilities on Misawa AB; uninstalled engines can be ran in both facilities. In-garrison aircraft maintenance units and deployed U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps units can use both facilities to perform high power operational engine checks on their respective aircraft engines.
The 35th MXS aerospace propulsion test cell Airmen are the last line of defense before an engine goes back into an aircraft, ensuring F-16 engine units are safe and ready for flight.
“Without the test cell flight, Misawa wouldn't have a mission,” Jones said. “We wouldn't have engines to put into jets to complete the Wild Weasel mission.”