BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
The unmistakable roar of the U-2 Dragon Lady during takeoff and its vertical ascent can be heard far and wide across Beale just about every day of the week.
While maintenance units from across the base are responsible for sortie production, the 9th Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion shop makes sure the roar isn’t a whimper.
“Basically, we work on the U-2 engines,” said Tech. Sgt. Ronald Craven, 9th MXS aerospace propulsion craftsman. “We are responsible for flightline maintenance on the engines, making sure they are serviceable after every flight, doing oil analysis, and any maintenance required time changes.”
According to Craven, all jet engines work on the same principle, they draw air in, compress the air, and then pushes the air out.
“We strictly work propulsion,” continued Craven. “We make the aircraft fly. Without us, it is a static display.”
The U-2 runs off of a single General Electric F118-101, engine which is capable of generating approximately 17,000 pounds of thrust.
“Working on the U-2 engine is unique,” said Master Sgt. Byron Johnson, 9th MXS flight chief. “Unlike other aircraft that allow for relatively easy access to the engine, for any engine maintenance, we have to disassemble it and pull off the entire back half of the aircraft.”
The 200 and 1000 hour inspections done by the shop allow them to fix problems early.
“Changing filters and constantly looking the engine over keep it running smoothly,” said Johnson. “We find small things occasionally, that if neglected could definitely lead to bigger problems later on. Sometimes if the engine doesn’t come out for a little while a small problem could manifest itself into something bigger, so it is important we address it right away.”
While propulsion Airmen work closely alongside 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs and other 9th MXS shops, their backshop responsibilities are extensive.
“On top of the flightline maintenance, we also have to make sure our shop is good,” said Senior Airman Ethan Morales, 9th MXS aerospace propulsion technician. “We are a self-sufficient flight. We have our own support section, our own hazmat section, and safety program we run. We also maintain the trailers which the engines are placed on and ensure the new engines that come in are ready to go.”
The impact the propulsion shop has on our nation’s ability to gather reconnaissance is not lost on these maintainers.
“Being a single engine aircraft means what we do is critical,” said Johnson. “The engine is the heart of the aircraft. When the pilots are up at 70,000 feet, they are often flying in an Area of Responsibility and they are depending on the engine.”