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‘Triple Nickel’ maintainers finish deployment strong

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Joseph Swafford
  • 455th AEW Public Affairs
Airmen deployed from Aviano Air Base, Italy, and assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron recently completed their 32nd F-16 Fighting Falcon phase inspection, ensuring the aircraft can complete the combat airpower mission here.

Phase is an in-depth inspection that is accomplished upon accrual of a specific number of flying hours, in the F-16’s case every 400 hours.

“It’s basically scheduled downtime for the aircraft to be inspected more than the normal day-to-day operations would allow,” said Master Sgt. Aaron Lerding, 455th EMXS Maintenance flight chief. “There are 635 inspections items that are inspected with every Viper (F-16) phase. Just in the same way that you must change your oil on your car every 3000 miles and timing belt at scheduled intervals, the phase process is a scheduled inspection that allows us to ensure safe, reliable airpower every 400 flight hours.”

Having the capability to complete phase inspections in a deployed environment helps the wing complete its air tasking order.

“Phase is the power house that sustains the ATO,” Said Maj. Megan Murtishaw, 455th EMXS commander. “Fighter aircraft have hourly scheduled inspections and by having a phase dock deployed with the unit, it allows for increased aircraft availability which ultimately gives us more combat capability.”

“With the accelerated flying while deployed, the phase becomes more important because with the completion of every phase we’re giving back 400 flight hours back to the unit to support the ATO,” Lerding added.

Having the capability here is nice but it doesn’t come without its deployed challenges.

“Here we have five days to complete the 400 hour phase, whereas back at home station we have nine days,” said Senior Airman Kristina Manning, 455th EMXS maintenance specialist. “We still have to complete everything we do back home, just in a lot less time. Even though we have to get everything done quicker it has to be done thoroughly, the jets here are not just going out on a training mission but for combat missions.”

“The phase team was not only tasked to complete five day phases, they were also the Crash,
Disabled, Damaged Aircraft Recovery team and had to respond to all in-flight and ground emergencies,” said Lerding. “Often times they would have to drop their tools while working or stop operational checkouts to respond. Additionally, we also built all F-16 wheel and tire assemblies totaling over 310, which is 300 times the normal rate.”

Despite these challenges the team was still able to complete the 32 phase inspections, which were 33 percent more than the previous two rotations with the same amount of manning.

“This group of maintainers has exceeded every challenge we have put in front of them. They have great attitudes and have worked nonstop to maintain the mission,” said Murtishaw. “They’re exceptional maintainers who also looked for ways to make things better. They changed the flow of the maintenance completed during phases to help meet the required timeline. They also implemented a new process where everything is digital during the phase, saving hours on the back end to review forms.”

“I've never seen a team come together and work so hard in my entire career,” said Lerding. “It was definitely a team effort and we couldn't have done it without the absolutely awesome world famous highly respected ‘Triple Nickel’ crew. I'm proud to have worked with such an amazing team, and if tasked again I'd pick the exact same technicians in a heartbeat.”

Seeing the jets have an impact on the mission here was a rewarding experience for the phase inspection maintainers.

“It’s great to see the jets that we have completed phase on come back after dropping bombs without having any issues,” said Manning. “It’s amazing to know that we contributed to the jet having 400 more hours of flight time to complete the mission.”