JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Fighter jets and heavies can rule the skies, but they need to get there first. It takes strict attention to detail from aircraft maintainers to service aircraft in order to launch them to the battlefield.
Airmen from the 703rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron identified and fixed a misplaced spoiler control rod on the E-3 Sentry during a Home Station Check at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, June 3, 2019.
Aircraft maintainers play a huge role when it comes to mission readiness. After all, they are responsible for the upkeep of aircraft that fly through the skies. It’s imperative for these Airmen to be meticulous, confident and disciplined in order to carry out their mission— inspect aircraft and troubleshoot problems.
The 703rd AMXS supports JBER’s worldwide contingency and maintenance operations for the 3rd Wing, 11th Air Force, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. They are responsible for the C-17 Globemaster III, E-3 Sentry, and C-130 Hercules. Crew chiefs assigned to the 703rd AMXS are assigned to either the 962nd or the 517th Aircraft Maintenance Units.
One type of aircraft maintained by the 962nd AMU is the E-3 Sentry. As an airborne warning and control system or AWACS aircraft, it performs an essential mission, distinguishing between friendly and enemy activity. It also provides airborne command and control in addition to conducting all-altitude, all-weather surveillance.
“I come to work and figure out what the flying and maintenance schedule is for the day,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Hays, 962nd AMU crew chief lead for two E-3B/C aircraft. “On a typical day, we launch one of the jets for a four to six-hour sortie and recover the jet towards the end of the shift. Once the jet lands, the other crew chiefs and I will perform a post-flight inspection and fix anything we find.”
As a crew chief, Hays performs visual inspections of the entire structure of the aircraft. These include calendar inspections, which serve to provide constant observation of all components of the aircraft to ensure reliability.
It was June 3rd when an issue with the jet’s spoiler rod was identified during an in-depth calendar inspection, known as a Home Station Checks.
“Calendar inspections vary, but a really important one is the Home Station Check that is completed every 180 days,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brandon Solomons, 962nd AMU crew chief. “One of the biggest things we look for during these inspections is irregular rubbing of moving components. During our mid-shift, Senior Airman Eric Goodholm noticed one of the rods was pushed up against another component in the wing called the flap track gearbox.”
In this case, it was the spoiler control rod, which was not damaged but could have potentially caused a major problem during the flight.
“A spoiler control rod basically helps lift the spoiler— a vital flight control surface that allows the jet to turn in flight, as well as a brake or slow down the jet during approach and landing,” said Solomon.
“The pushrod is not supposed to rub on the gearbox, so myself and our production superintendent performed further investigations,” said Hays. “I identified that the two outboard spoilers follow up pushrods were connected incorrectly to the idler arm, therefore causing the pushrod to rub on the gearbox.”
The total time to fix the issue was a combined eight hours, to include an operation check. “I led the fix of the malfunction along with Staff Sgt. Solomons,” said Hays. “We disconnected and reconnected the pushrods to the idler arm correctly, which provided the proper clearance from the gearbox.”
These kinds of calendar inspections allow maintainers to identify defects before malfunctions cause serious danger or harm to the aircraft or personnel. In any case, a setback with the aircraft is a setback to the mission.
“After ensuring the rod wasn’t damaged, we got in touch with Tinker Air Force Base, and they found the same problem on three of their jets,” said Solomons. “This discovery drove a Time Change Technical Order, implemented to prevent flight binding across the fleet.”
Time Change Technical Orders, or periodic updates to aircraft that authorize the modification of a system, were pushed to keep the operational tempo on track. As an air defense system, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the United States or NATO countries. It can direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to these enemy targets. Thus being a vital component to the mission in day to day operations.
“Something like this could have been easily overlooked, but Senior Airman Goodholm is very thorough and paid great attention to detail,” said Solomons.
After the team made modifications and the pushrods were properly connected, a rig check was performed to verify if the spoilers were in the proper configuration.
“I can say Senior Airman Goodholm, Staff Sgt. Hays and I contributed by identifying and planning a course of action to fix this issue, but it was an effort as an AMU that fixed the discrepancy,” said Solomons. “With the unit’s team effort and strong leadership the problem was identified, fixed and the jet was able to go and perform the mission again.”
General maintenance actions and inspections by not only the 703rd AMXS, but all maintainers require attention to detail day in and day out. The lives of the crew and mission success depend on it.