BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
Reconnaissance is the oldest mission set in combat aviation making the U-2 Dragon Lady essential to the mission of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and the Air Force as a whole.
Ensuring the long-term performance of the U-2 falls upon a team of Airmen in the 9th Maintenance Squadron who perform phase maintenance on the airframe.
“Major phase maintenance is a periodic inspection of the aircraft done every 1,000 flying hours,” said Tech. Sgt. Garrett Jensen, 9th MXS phase dock chief. “We bring it in here, break it all down, inspect for broken parts, and change out parts that are due for replacement. Then we put it all back together and test it.”
According to Jensen, the process takes approximately 12 days to complete while a minor phase, which occurs every 500 flying hours, takes seven days.
Due to the construction of the U-2, the maintainers have to perform unique tasks to meet those demands.
“Our main priority is the cables. We have your rudder, elevator and aileron cables. Over time cables will wear out and the metal wears down. When we find something wrong we replace it and string cable along the whole aircraft,” said Senior Airman Jonathan Blaker, 9th MXS repair and reclamation. “Each of the canopies is also uniquely fitted to the jet. We have to shave it, trim it, and bend it to actually form it to the cockpit.”
Phase maintenance on the U-2 can often be back-to-back and sometimes overlap due to a unique program where the Airmen at Beale serve as the maintenance hub, which means they are responsible for maintaining jets in operational and expeditionary locations.
“We have what is called the global phase program, so we are responsible for doing phase on the entire fleet,” said Jensen. “When aircraft in Korea are due for phase we actually send a team out there. When they come from deployed locations they will stop en-route and then come here.”
The nature of the program means members of the phase shop regularly go TDY to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea; RAF Fairford, England; and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
“We send four to six people to go help with a phase in Korea,” said Blaker. “We also go to Hawaii and Fairford several times a year to meet them from deployed locations.”
Blaker said since the jets in Korea stay longer, they phase them at Osan as a way to maintain fiscal responsibility.
The nature of reconnaissance and the longevity of the U-2, means the efforts of 9th MXS phase dock ensures combat commanders have access to reconnaissance and surveillance.
“Our work is meticulous and it requires attention to detail and research, but it is important we do it right,” Jensen said. “We deliver quality aircraft back out to the flightline so they can have another 1000 flying hours.”
The aforementioned work of the phase maintainers allows the 9th RW and our nation to remain “Semper Paratus.”