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Maintainers halve jet-engine swap time
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Staff Sgt. Bradley Barnes (standing), an engine systems specialist with the 380th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, prepares the throttle cable during an engine replacement on an Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, or E-3 Sentry, here Sunday. Senior Airman Marcus Wilson, 380th EAMXS electro-environmental specialist, assists crew mates on the removal of the hydraulics package. This rotation of 380th EAMXS E-3 maintainers has replaced an unprecedented six engines in 120 days. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Denise Johnson)(released)
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Maintainers halve jet-engine swap time

Posted 8/26/2008   Updated 8/26/2008 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Denise Johnson
380th AEW Public Affairs

8/26/2008 - SOUTHWEST ASIA  -- Maintainers swapped out what they hope is the last of six jet-engine replacements over the course of 120 days here Sunday.

Replacing six E-3 Sentry, or AWACS, engines in one deployment rotation is unprecedented, according to Master Sgt. Chuck Ratajczyk, 380th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent.

The 24-year veteran said his home unit at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., has changed out one engine for a significantly higher number of the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, in the same period of time. "The dust, the heat and exposure take their toll on these older aircraft," Sergeant Ratajczyk continued. "The aircraft age and the climate eats 'em up."

The number-4 engine surpassed allowable exhaust-temperature limits resulting in this latest engine change. "During take-off it over temped past triple nickel, which is 555 degrees Celsius," said Senior Airman Rodney Poe, 380th EAMXS engine systems specialist.

Although the jets are not kept in hangars and the austere environment doesn't show any mercy, the maintainers have faced their deployment and its challenges as a team to make sure the jets can meet the air tasking order.

"Everyone pitches in on this deployment - regardless of his or her duty title," Sergeant Ratajczyk said. "I have been doing the flightline-maintenance thing for over 20 years and I can honestly say this has been the best group of maintainers I've ever had the opportunity to work with."

The Airmen haven't disappointed their pro-super, or their leadership. The normal fix-time to remove and replace an E-3 engine is 18 hours. The maintainers here have become so adept at the process; they can remove and replace an engine in less than nine hours.

There are several factors that can be attributed to the expedited maintenance times. The high number of engine swaps is likely to have increased their expertise. It is also possible the crossflow of various areas of expertise by different members of the team has been beneficial overall. Some folks, however, tend to lean toward the intangible, less-obvious reasons for the exceptional engine-replacement times.

"These guys are awesome; they have literally cut our time on the ground in half. But it's not just the rapid repairs that make them amazing; it's their dedication and camaraderie," said Lt. Col. Mike Shea, 380th EAMXS commander. "I think they enjoy it - they know they're winners. You can see it in the smiles they're wearing while they're working, and you can hear it in the good-natured ribbing and the laughter. They have formed an invincible team; I don't think there's much we could throw at 'em they couldn't handle together."

Members of the 380th EAMXS prepared the number-4 engine for removal from the E-3 Sentry just after midnight. The replacement engine arrived on a C-130 from the 379th AEW by 1:15 a.m. The maintenance crew was there to greet it.

The jet was down for the count. Without that engine, the 960th Expeditionary Airborne Air Control Squadron could not fulfill their flying missions. "We don't waste time. The jet had a hole on the wing and we needed to fill it," Sergeant Ratajczyk said.

And fill it, they did. By 9 a.m. the engine was ready for its green run and trim run. "It '(operations) checked' good and the following day it was in the air, meeting the ATO," said Tech. Sgt. Richard Offutt, 380th EAMXS flightline expeditor.

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