MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- One wouldn’t usually break down an entire vehicle to find the smallest crack or defect.
However, the 35th Maintenance Squadron Phase Inspection section does just that. The only difference is their vehicles are Misawa Air Base’s flock of F-16 Fighting Falcons.
“After aircraft complete numerous sorties, parts on the aircraft wear and tear, just as anything else would,” said Master Sgt. Steven D. Tolliffe, a 35th MXS transient alert/wheel and tire section chief.
It is then the Phase Inspection section's job to break down every F-16 Fighting Falcon that comes in after flying it maximum amount of sorties before requiring mandatory maintenance and get them back out to the flightline.
“My shop consists of some of the most motivated Airmen I’ve had a chance to work with,” said Tolliffe. “They love tackling the heavy maintenance and take pride in their inspections.”
The 35th MXS Phase Inspection section Airmen thoroughly inspect and identify discrepancies from the nose to the tail of an aircraft before they become big problems, allowing Misawa jets to be at the ready to project air power.
“With the constant flow of aircraft through the phase dock, we strive to foster a zero-mistake mentality and promote a do-it-right-the-first-time culture,” said Tolliffe.
To ensure aircraft are in the best condition at the end of phase maintenance, the team also works closely with the other flightline shops.
“Having communication with all the shops makes for a smoother process,” said Airman 1st Class D’Andre Daniels, a 35th MXS Phase Inspection section journeyman.
A team of 50 to 60 technicians is involved in the inspection process at various points.
The jet finds itself in either in one of two places, the fuel barn or the phase dock, during the inspection.
The fuel barn is where the aircraft is inspected for any fuel leaks or discrepancies within the internal tanks. The fuel system access hatches are opened, and all the fuel storage system components are repaired if needed.
Once any leaks or worn items are repaired, the fuel system is closed, sealed and leak-checked again before the aircraft is towed to the phase hangar where roughly 140 panels are taken off to prep for inspection.
“Once everything is fixed, quality assurance is called out to inspect all the zones, ensuring all work performed is correct and validated by a second set of eyes,” said Tolliffe. “Systems are operationally-checked and final leak checks on the hydraulic system are completed before the aircraft is paneled up and given back to its owning unit to support the flying hour program and pilot training.”
The phase dock will normally handle 24 to 26 aircraft each fiscal year. This year 22 phase inspections have already been completed with two aircraft currently in the process of being double-docked, or inspected simultaneously.
“With six phase inspections projected through October, that should push our total to 30 aircraft inspected this fiscal year,” said Tolliffe.
Inspections were ramped up in order to meet the flight hour needs for pilot training and to ensure the aircraft can successfully project airpower.
“It took a lot of hard work from everyone in the phase inspection section and supporting agencies, but we were able to push aircraft through quickly and safely in order to meet that demand,” said Tolliffe.
Tolliffe has had the chance to touch many different airframes including F-15 Eagles and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs.
“All airframes have their own quirks, issues, frustrations and upsides in terms of maintenance,” said Tolliffe. “One thing seems to always be consistent across all maintainers, and that’s the maintenance teams' dedication to making sure that any jet they’ve touched is safe for a pilot to get into and fly to the limits.”
He believes it takes a lot of trust on both sides to make that happen. Maintainers have to trust pilots to accurately report issues, and pilots have to trust the maintainers to correctly troubleshoot those issues.
He believes aircraft are simple, people are complex and communication is the most dynamic thing we do as personnel in the profession of arms.
Everyone contributes to the same goal of safe aircraft and combat ready pilots.
“Everyone should always know how they fit into the mission of their wing,” said Tolliffe. “From the supply troop who orders the parts we need to the flightline technicians that launch, recover and turn the aircraft that flew, the aircraft maintenance squadron needs the aircraft we produce in order to provide ops the flight hours they need for pilot training.”