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Commentary Search

F-15 maintenance; the relationship between jet and maintainer

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagle from the 173rd Fighter Wing is almost unrecognizable as a fighter aircraft with multiple pieces missing from its body while sitting in the hangar at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore. Oct. 16, 2014.  This aircraft is going through phase maintenance where the 173rd FW maintainers closely inspect the aircraft for cracks and other types of damage, verifying that the 30 plus year old aircraft is safe to fly.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar/Released)

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagle from the 173rd Fighter Wing is almost unrecognizable as a fighter aircraft with multiple pieces missing from its body while sitting in the hangar at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore. Oct. 16, 2014. This aircraft is going through phase maintenance where the 173rd FW maintainers closely inspect the aircraft for cracks and other types of damage, verifying that the 30 plus year old aircraft is safe to fly. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Lautenschlager, 173rd Fighter Wing F-15 crew chief, examines a crack found in a portion of the wing of the disassembled F-15 at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore. Oct. 16, 2014.  This aircraft is going through phase maintenance where the 173rd FW maintainers closely inspect the aircraft for cracks and other types of damage, verifying that the 30 plus year old aircraft is safe to fly.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar/Released)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Lautenschlager, 173rd Fighter Wing F-15 crew chief, examines a crack found in a portion of the wing of the disassembled F-15 at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore. Oct. 16, 2014. This aircraft is going through phase maintenance where the 173rd FW maintainers closely inspect the aircraft for cracks and other types of damage, verifying that the 30 plus year old aircraft is safe to fly. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar/Released)

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagle from the 173rd Fighter Wing is almost unrecognizable as a fighter aircraft with multiple pieces missing from its body while sitting in the hangar at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore. Oct. 16, 2014.  This aircraft is going through phase maintenance where the 173rd FW maintainers closely inspect the aircraft for cracks and other types of damage, verifying that the 30 plus year old aircraft is safe to fly.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar/Released)

An Oregon Air National Guard F-15 Eagle from the 173rd Fighter Wing is almost unrecognizable as a fighter aircraft with multiple pieces missing from its body while sitting in the hangar at Kingsley Field, in Klamath Falls, Ore. Oct. 16, 2014. This aircraft is going through phase maintenance where the 173rd FW maintainers closely inspect the aircraft for cracks and other types of damage, verifying that the 30 plus year old aircraft is safe to fly. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Jennifer Shirar/Released)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- The life of a 173rd Fighter Wing maintainer at Kingsley Field, Oregon has fundamental qualities; first off you will be busy...really busy. The base routinely prepares 12 jets on a given day so 10 can fly in the morning and eight of those can fly in the afternoon. Every morning this creates a beehive of activity as numerous shops tend to the care of all 32 aircraft assigned.

But the number of aircraft ready to take to the skies is never 32. Why?

One of the challenges of flying in this day and age is overcoming the shortage of F-15 parts. Maintenance shops overcome this by parking at least one aircraft in a hangar and borrowing its critical parts for other airframes. They are called "CANN-birds" and they are used for a month or so before returning to the flying schedule.  This cycle contributes to the busy pace at Kingsley, but the fact of the matter is it is normal for all flying units.

Any maintainer will tell you when it's time to put an aircraft back in the air after it has been a "CANN-bird" or has not been flown for some time it won't be as simple as replacing the parts and cranking it up.

No, it will require troubleshooting, working little kinks out here and there; it could almost be called massaging. What makes this interesting is that theoretically it really shouldn't happen this way. All the parts are tested, calibrated, adjusted, and ready to go and the aircraft should crank right up; however, in reality some TLC is required.

"Every aircraft is different, if you use cars as an example every Mustang is different," said Chief Master Sgt. Joe McKenzie, 173rd Fighter Wing Maintenance Chief.

What McKenzie is saying is that two cars produced at the same time on the same line will still have differences. He relates that to the jets and says "we have to know beyond the broad guidelines in the T.O. how things should be set exactly to make each individual aircraft really perform...and each one is different."

He gives one example that speaks volumes about the level of experience needed to effectively maintain the jets.

"If you look at the sight windows on the IDGs (integrated drive generators) there are silver bands on them showing what the internal oil level should be; but I know, and everybody out here that's been crewing a jet for 20 years, knows exactly what level their aircraft should have. They are all a little different; too high and the generator can get hot and cause a heat failure and too low and it won't crank enough juice," says McKenzie.

He's talking about levels that are all within tolerances, within the indicated band on the sight window, and within the specifications of the technical order.

The complex systems that endure massive amounts of stress are kept in perfect working order by a maintainer's intimate knowledge of his jet; a bond between the maintainer and his aircraft.

With the recent iron flow into Kingsley Field--gaining five aircraft--the maintainers feel the frustration of having to make a new jet their own.

When asked what the hardest part of switching from one aircraft to another F-15 crew chief Master Sgt. Sean Campbell says immediately, "watching the jet leave."

That's surprising when he could have easily mentioned the laundry list of problems these "new" aircraft have--leaks, bad hydraulics, bad wiring, non-functional radar, and avionics systems and the list goes on.

Maj. Micah Lambert, the former maintenance squadron commander, says it takes about two years to get one of these new jets to the place where the 173rd Maintenance Group is satisfied with their performance. Think of it as two years for the maintainers to know their aircraft thoroughly.