HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Holloman’s 54th Aircraft Maintenance Airmen work tirelessly to keep the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a single-engine supersonic multirole fighter aircraft, flying high above New Mexico’s desert.
Responsibilities of F-16 crew chiefs range from maintenance duties to oil servicing and checking tires. Similar to any aircraft, an F-16 can be damaged or break down unexpectedly. The "health" of an F-16 is dependent upon its maintainers.
“These jets are a lot like humans,” said Airman 1st Class Derek King, a 54th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-16 crew chief. “(Being a crew chief) is kind of like being a doctor, but on an aircraft. The jet might be feeling good that day--he might go up and down without any problems and your day is a lot easier. But, if he comes down and something is wrong, then it has to be fixed. You can do all the things that our technical data prepares us for, as far as making sure the aircraft is ready to fly, but you never can predict how it is going to come back.”
The 54th AMU runs 24 hour operations, covering three shifts—days, swings and mids. Maintainers perform a wide-range of tasks during these shifts.
“On any given eight hour shift, you might spend six of those hours out here on your aircraft,” King said. “On a day or swing shift schedule: you come in, and you do not know what your turn-over is going to tell you. Whenever you get that turn-over, your day is either going to go really well or you are going to be super busy. Either way, you never know what you are going to get. It always keeps you curious.”
This inability to foretell what is going to happen on a given shift is what makes maintenance work mentally and physically taxing for some Airmen.
“The most difficult aspect of being a crew chief is not knowing what is going to happen,” King said. “You can prepare for a shift, but you never come to work knowing exactly what you are going to be doing. Some people love it and some people hate it. I think society, as a whole, likes routines—that is human nature. Because of our job, we have to be prepared for anything. Maintenance tests you, it tests multiple things as far as your mind and your body.”
Day-shift involves readying the jets for flight, while mid-shifts makes sure that everything is ready to go.
“You just want to make sure that you trust, but verify--check everything out—and let the expeditor know that you are good to go for the first flight,” King said.
After all the required maintenance has been performed on the jet, the crew chief will prepare the pilot for take-off by removing all the covers and setting up the seat for the pilot to enter.
Once the pilot shows up, the crew chief will brief preflight details and conduct checks on the aircraft before it takes off. Upon return, the crew chief may need to ensure the jet is refueled.
Simply put, no fuel--no take off. Though they appear super-human, F-16 maintainers cannot complete their job without the aid of other units.
“We are the facilitators and maintainers for anything that deals with fuel and cryogenic products,” said Staff Sgt. Quincy Moore, the 49th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facilities non-commissioned officer in charge. “Without Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants fuels, without cryogenics, Holloman’s pilots cannot fly.”
Fuel maintainers are vital to maintaining Holloman’s aircraft, as they help to ready the F-16 for flight in a variety of ways. Holloman wouldn’t be able to produce the world’s F-16 pilots without the fuels personnel, maintainers and crew chiefs.
“The most rewarding aspect of being a crew chief is simply watching the F-16s take off, and knowing that you had hands on that jet—that you might have been the one that launched it out or you might have done some maintaining on it,” King said.
The F-16 is an indispensable asset to the Air Force. Without the dedication and intellectual know-how of Holloman’s maintainers the asset cannot be utilized.
“The Air Force is the Air Force because we fly planes and we cannot do that without crew chiefs and maintainers. As an air force, we are here to supply air power to the world, and the whole maintainer world has a direct correlation to producing that airpower,” King said.