MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
F-16 Fighting Falcon avionics specialists maintain and repair a wide range of electronics systems in the aircraft, ranging from communications to flight controls. To keep up with a demanding operations tempo, Misawa’s avionics Airmen developed a device to make their performance even more efficient, completing the project July 2016.
While performing an integrity check on aircraft parts, called line replaceable units, a few avionics specialists were approached by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Wuntke in May 2016. The then 35th Maintenance Squadron avionics intermediate section chief observed their process and recognized how it could be done better.
At the time, the action was carried out by two Airmen connecting pins manually while activating another instrument, leaving room for error and requiring a significant amount of effort.
“After noticing how we did things, [Wuntke] dug up an old technical manual he put together at another base,” said Senior Airman Nary Kong-Choup, a 35th MXS avionics intermediate section electronic warfare section team member. “The appliance consists of a breakout box, which adapts cable extensions to the LRU.”
The device they created attaches to seven different types of LRUs and was developed from technical data used Air Force-wide.
“When an LRU breaks on the jet, a specialist removes it and brings the damaged one to us,” said Staff Sgt. Felipe Rosario, the 35th MXS avionics intermediate section electronic warfare section team lead. “When we receive the component and determine that it is broken, we repair it or order replacement parts.”
In order to troubleshoot the LRUs, avionics technicians attach them to a machine that emulates the settings of an F-16 in flight. The next stage of the procedure is facilitated by the Airmen’s new creation.
“This process performs continuity checks on LRUs during which we inspect the integrity of an electrical pathway,” said Rosario. “We ensure the wire connects from one location to another successfully.”
Previously, the amount of time it took to complete an inspection ranged from 30 minutes to an hour and depended on the Airman’s experience and dexterity.
“This new device removes complications, requires less manpower, prevents error and cuts the time it takes down to about 20 minutes,” said Rosario.
The number of LRUs needing repairs varies from year-to-year based on mission requirements and undetectable variables.
“The number we fix depends on the mission,” said Rosario. “In 2015, the avionics shop worked on 38 LRUs total, but there’s no set amount of times we use this device because the need is sporadic.”
Regardless of the number of LRUs that break on a jet, the significance of being able to fix them quickly and effectively cannot be stressed enough.
“F-16s can become inoperative if one LRU breaks,” said Rosario. “For example, the p-grip is a control stick and if that stops working, the pilot cannot maneuver the jet. Each LRU has its own function, but they all provide the pilot a way to interact with the aircraft.”
When presented with the opportunity to change the process and make it simpler to complete, the Airmen took the initiative.
“The Airmen took the lead on this and ordered the equipment,” Rosario said. “They completed it by collaborating with the fabrication and accessories flights to build the breakout box, solder the connectors, and research connector types. Instead of getting a contractor or manufacturer, they did it themselves.”
For the Airmen in Misawa’s avionics shop, this experience not only developed their technical skills, but also opened their eyes to a new sense of ingenuity.
“Before this project, I had grown accustomed to the established processes here,” said Rosario. “I have now developed a mindset of searching for innovative ways to do things.”
The process of building the apparatus took approximately three months and came to a close when its use was approved by the 35th Maintenance Group commander. Moving forward, the shop has plans for developing and building more breakout boxes and cables to support more than seven LRUs, while also spreading their knowledge to other bases.
“Not every base has this, so I plan to take the technical plans with me when I move to another station and rebuild it there,” said Kong-Choup. “We’re hoping to share the idea with others and do what we can to make the process more efficient Air Force-wide.”