The jet doctor is in; AVHOF teams treat ailing birds
By Airman 1st Class Alex Echols, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 08, 2013
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Aircraft are very similar to the human body. After so much stress and activity, parts wear down, and a doctor is called in before the symptoms get worse. The Avionics Health of the Fleet team at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., are physicians to F-22 Raptors.
Due to its complexity and high integration of advanced systems, the F-22 demands highly trained individuals and advanced maintenance programs.
The 43rd AMU put into operation the Avionics Health of the Fleet program in an effort to increase the number of fully mission capable F-22s on Tyndall's flight line.
"Our AVHOF endeavor works to build up and maintain the system reliability of the subsystems on the jet," said Capt. Stephen Rose, 43rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. "When the jet flies, eventually a component breaks and causes that system to no longer work properly."
Right now, the AVHOF team consists of just six enlisted specialists, who look after Tyndall's 31 Raptors.
The newer jets typically have a lower maintenance rate and encounter less code 2's, in flight malfunctions, than the older jets in the fleet. A code 2 is fixed immediately or shortly after the aircraft lands if it is possible with the time and resources available. If not, these write-ups become delayed discrepancies.
Delayed discrepancies prevent an aircraft from being fully mission capable and limit the availability for the flying schedule.
"The pilots have a syllabus that they have to stick to or else they fall behind in their training, and nobody benefits from those guys falling behind," said Tech. Sgt. Kraig Callais, the fleet health manager. "It is really hard for us at the time to hold something down and be able to have them keep up their training."
The AVHOF helps keep pilots fully trained by providing fully mission capable jets.
It begins with Callais.
"In the week prior to a jet coming down for AVHOF, I go over every DD or code 2, make a list and start doing the research on the issues to find out what the most probable causes are," said Callais. "I will source those parts and get them in hand, and once the aircraft actually comes into the hangar, we can start our process."
Then, his crew of five Airmen goes to work.
First, they strip off the low observable paint that coats the panels over the components in need of repair.
"The whole aircraft is painted," Rose said. "You have to remove that paint layer to gain access to the fasteners."
After the components are exposed, the crew repairs each DD, which, individually, could take from three days to a week. The jet's doctor visit lasts three weeks on average.
Callais' team is not the only crew involved with AVHOF.
"We are the core of it, but it really takes the entire unit to get the process successfully completed," said Callais. "We give it every effort to work together."
Low observable troops are with them from the start. Their job of replacing the aircraft's low observable paint is very time consuming. LO must work hand and hand with AVHOF to get the jet back in the air as soon as possible. The two shops often work on the opposite end of the aircraft to maximize the available space and time.
The team also works extensively with crew chiefs and weapons troops who are sometimes needed to remove one of their unit's components or share some of their expertise if the malfunctioning system is interacting with one of their systems.
"My favorite thing about the AVHOF program is just the experience that you gain working with various groups of people," Airman 1st Class Kenan Harvey, a maintenance specialist, said. "It just builds you up as a maintainer."
If a problem is too extensive or technical, much like specialized surgeons, engineers from Lockheed Martin and elsewhere come in to provide their support. They work side-by-side with the Airmen to determine the cause and solution to the ailment, adding to the tremendous training and experience the Airmen are receiving from AVHOF.
"The training is probably the second greatest part about the health of the fleet process," said Callais.
The Airmen get detailed and complete knowledge of each problem they solve, and in the future when the problem arises on a jet they are repairing on the flight line, they will know exactly what to do, according to Callais.
"The greatest thing is getting the hands on experience and knowledge," said Senior Airman Christopher Dunn, a maintenance specialist. "When working on the line as a maintainer there isn't always time to sit down with a system and just understand it completely. AVHOF program gives maintainers that chance. Then it is great when that maintainer goes back to the line and they know the system like the back of their hand."
"It's an amazing feeling," Maintenance Specialist Airman 1st Class Daniel Ramize said. "You have a jet with an issue, and you fix it. There is no way to explain it. Everything is just better."
In the year and a half it has been active, the members associated with AVHOF program have repaired 12 F-22s to fully mission capable.
AVHOF is going to continue to repair these jets and train these Airmen for as long as possible, said Captain Rose.
"We are going to keep going through these jets one at a time and keep the systems up," Captain Rose said. "We are also going to get new Airmen in the program. These guys will go out to the line and use this knowledge so hopefully it will not get to that depth of a system break. "