Phase inspection Airmen keep Osan's aircraft fixed right, ready to fight
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Historical evidence has proven that air superiority is crucial to a nation's success in battle, and while the U. S. Air Force is the most powerful in the world, most of the aircraft used are a few decades old, making maintenance incredibly important. After spending a certain amount of time in the air, exposed to extreme pressure and sudden shifts in gravitational pull, the aircraft are given a complete physical inspection, what the military simply refers to as going into phase.
The 51st Maintenance Squadron operates the base's phase docks, ensuring that all aircraft brought in meet strict safety standards. Every 400 hours of flight for the F-16 Fighting Falcon and every 500 hours of flight for the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the aircraft must undergo this in-depth inspection and preventive maintenance regiment.
"We've got to make sure we do it right the first time," said Tech. Sgt. Justin Wolfe, 51st MXS A-10 dock chief. "It doesn't matter whether you're taking out a screw or putting in a panel, there's something that can affect the integrity of the aircraft and cause it to crash, putting somebody's life in danger. Fixed right, ready to fight; it's what we do."
Phase inspection crew chiefs team up with other back shops such as aerospace recovery, egress, avionics specialists, electro-environmental, sheet metal and engines, all working around the clock to meet maintenance deadlines.
"It's only a seven- or 10-day phase," said Wolfe.
Wolfe continued explaining, the main things aircraft are inspected for are cracks and other structural integrity issues, which are on the critical items list. Those issues, if not identified immediately, could lead to a prolonged stay in the phase dock, which in turn limits the number of aircraft available for immediate response.
While working together and around each other, specialists crawl in, out, over and under the entirety of the aircraft, seeing to their specific sections for repairs. Egress airmen remove the ejector seat for easier maintenance. Crew chiefs remove aircraft panels to check for cracks or excessive wear and tear and report to sheet metal for repairs. Aerospace recovery, electro-environmental and avionics are everywhere checking their myriad of wires and functions.
"We perform routine maintenance, unless something is specifically wrong," said Staff Sgt. David Davis, 51st Maintenance Group aerospace propulsion craftsman. "I mainly work on the engines themselves, changing out filters, inspecting to make sure the equipment is safe and still usable, if not we replace them as needed."
The base's primary war fighting capability is its aircraft. The phase team ensures the reliability of the airframe and in conjunction, the safety of the pilots who fly them.
"No matter how hard it gets, it's worth the work," said Davis. "Seeing [the aircraft] fly afterwards, it's amazing. I don't have the words; it's just a huge sense of accomplishment."