MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- After 450 days of being grounded for extensive maintenance, tail number 400, an F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron, took flight at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 18.
In October 2016, tail number 400 sustained critical electrical and internal damage, grounding the jet longer than any other aircraft the 13th Aircraft Maintenance Unit had ever seen.
“This is probably the longest I’ve seen an aircraft sit on the ground,” said Tech. Sgt. Paul Moore, a 13th FS flight line expeditor.
Misawa's maintenance professionals wouldn't take no for an answer when it came to getting the jet back into the sky where it belonged.
“The most challenging part of this project was the setbacks we continued to have,” explained Moore. “You finally fix a part and move on, and then something else fails. The fact this aircraft is finally back together and going to leave the ground is a good feeling.”
The Airmen also focused on the positives throughout the process. Moore emphasized the many training opportunities that arose in the midst of maintenance challenges. Airmen with the highest level of training worked side-by-side those who recently graduated basic technical training, a unique situation on Misawa’s flight line.
“This was a prime experience for the young Airmen involved,” said Moore. “Working on this aircraft provided excellent training due to the fact all the pieces of this plane had to be put back together. This was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and almost everyone on the maintenance side touched this jet at some point.”
For Staff Sgt. Chase McKee, the maintainer with the greatest number of hours dedicated to the jet’s repair, the takeoff arrived not a moment too soon; he departed for Luke Air Force Base the following week.
“For three months, getting this aircraft in working condition has been my main focus,” said McKee, a dedicated crew chief with the 13th FS. “I’m glad to see this project come full circle. It’s my last day here, so I’m excited to see the aircraft fly.”
All the Airmen that had a hand in working on this jet contributed to making tail number 400 airworthy and able to withstand the force demanded during future training sorties.
“My job flying this aircraft was to test every system to include the engine, primary functions and the back-up controls,” said Capt. Nicolas DeWulf, the 13th FS Bravo Flight commander. “If one small thing does not work the way it is supposed to, I won’t release the jet for training or combat operations.”
In addition to testing the engine, DeWulf performed various maneuvers to push the aircraft past its limit, which could be encountered during flight. Tail number 400 performed flawlessly.
“It is a great jet and a testament to our incredible maintenance team on how hard they work,” added DeWulf. “To take a jet most people would send to the graveyard and return it to combat-ready status not only increased our training and combat capabilities but also saved the Air Force $35 million.”