KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- As the morning sun rises over the base, the pilot walks to his aircraft. Both man and machine will work as one unit in the sky today. The pilot looks at the crew chief, who is waiting at the aircraft, and gives a thumbs up. As the pilot buckles into the cockpit and the canopy closes, the crew chief ensures that the final touches are completed and clears the jet for launch.
“Sir, your jet is good to go – see you when you get back on the ground.” These words are the last to the pilot prior to launch by Senior Airman Taylor Bryant, 525th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief. Bryant and members of the 525th Fighter Squadron are currently deployed to Kadena as a part of a Theater Security Package tasking.
F-22s are a familiar sight over the skies of Okinawa; the jets deploy to Kadena AB routinely. Combined with the six-month rotational deployment of the F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, these TSP’s reinforce the Pacific Air Force's commitment to the employment of fifth-generation fighter technology within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility.
Dealing with a fifth-generation aircraft creates a learning curve for the maintainers on the ground, to make sure the aircraft launch and perform their mission as expected, explains Master Sgt. Kenneth Wilkins, 525th AMU production superintendent. Because the airframe is relatively new, the past generation aircraft knowledge is something the maintainers often rely on for problem solving.
“The prior aircraft experience has been crucial in preparing maintainers on these fifth-generation fighters,” Wilkins said. “Without the prior experience, we wouldn’t have a baseline of items to check when a new problem may arise.”
While the F-15s here at Kadena are a fourth-generation aircraft, Bryant explained there’s still plenty that can be learned by maintainers to apply to the fifth-generation models.
“I’d relate the F-15 Eagle to a strong Chevrolet truck,” Bryant said. “It can take a beating and keep going and it’s a highly reliable aircraft. The F-22 Raptor is more like a Lamborghini – still very reliable but very high-tech.”
As new F-22s have come off the line, each aircraft has gotten progressively more advanced due to the diligence of the maintainers finding potential issues. Bryant said when an issue does occur, they often have a representative from Lockheed Martin or Boeing come and help diagnose the problem and come up with a solution – making sure future models don’t have similar problems.
Even though the 525th is based in Alaska, Bryan stated the environment at Kadena helps play a major part in making the deployment a learning experience for the 525th AMU.
“A challenge being deployed here, versus being home in Alaska, is combating the weather,” Bryant said. “Alaska is not as humid as it is here at Kadena, so we have to make sure to keep the cockpit dry and clear of condensation.”
For Bryant however, the real gratification comes from seeing his work lead to the generation of aircraft safely each day.
“A friend of mine always said you have to come to the line with the mentality that ‘it’s a beautiful day to put jets in the air’ – everyday someone’s life is in our hands,” Bryant said. “It’s very rewarding to know that this aircraft can take off every day, and I’m the last person who touched it.”