KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- The mission of aircraft maintainers depends heavily on the equipment they use to perform their duties being properly treated for the environment they’re in and having it all readily available for daily usage. The Aerospace Ground Equipment flight, part of the 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, ensures that all AGE is inspected, repaired and given preventative protection on a regular basis.
Aircraft on Kadena Air Base, Japan, go through 18,000 annual flying hours and everyday usage that requires maintainers to address wear and tear 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Maintainers and pilots both acknowledge the saying, “There is no air power without ground power,” which couldn’t be truer regarding the AGE flight at Kadena.
“We ensure the quality and integrity of our equipment, making sure that everything is mission capable and ready to support aircraft maintenance units,” said Airman 1st Class Andrew Goggin, an 18th EMS AGE apprentice, “That includes doing inspections on our equipment, maintenance in case something is broken, and preventative maintenance, which would include corrosion control.”
In efforts to prevent rust and corrosion, all pieces of equipment on the flight line receive washes every 90 days, and get a full annual inspection, explained Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Poultney, the 18th EMS AGE NCO in charge of the North Side shop. The fight against corrosion is something that AGE Airmen contend with more frequently on Kadena than their stateside counterparts.
“Salty air, being near the ocean, the humidity, everything’s wet all the time,” Poultney stated. “We have more environmental regulations than some stateside bases, and we are geographically isolated, so getting things here is more challenging.”
The onslaught of the elements is constant and can get worse at a moment's notice on the subtropical island of Okinawa. According to Poultney, another method of preventing corrosion on equipment is called pack outs, which start the moment potential typhoons are reported.
“Before a typhoon hits, we have to make sure our equipment is safe and not going to blow around and hit anything else,” Poultney said. “We usually load them all up in the hangars; some of our equipment is heavy and involves some skillful driving or pushing to get it all close together. It’s a lot of pieces being moved very quickly, taking about two days to pack out.”
For the duration of the storm, equipment is stored in the different AGE shops, sparing it from exposure and damage. The AGE shop is responsible for gathering up all of their equipment across base, from the pieces of equipment being used on the flight line, to the pieces waiting to be worked on at their individual shops.
The AGE flight is spread out between three different shops; the North Side shop which deals with heavy aircraft, the South Side shop which deals with fighter jets as well as transient aircraft and the War Ready Maintenance shop which stores equipment for potential real-world situations. All the shops fall under AGE, but are spread out due to the unique, geographic layout of Kadena.
“I was at the North Side for about two or three months when I first got here,” Goggin said, who now works at the South Side AGE location. “For the most part we stay on our own sides, but the South Side is really going through it right now so we actually have people from up there coming down to help us. We also currently have some people from WRM out here as well, so we do help each other out.”
The ability to plug and play is a trait Airmen of AGE incorporate everyday, not just when switching to and from shops around base. The variety of equipment and components that AGE services makes the inspection and repair process longer and more difficult, but results in technicians that can fix a wide range of equipment and problems.
“Pneumatics, hydraulics, electronics, refrigeration, you name it, we do it,” Poultney said. “Some call us the last true maintainers because we don’t have a back shop, so if something goes wrong with a piece of equipment, we can’t call someone else to fix it — we have to do it.”
Due to the plethora of equipment and the maintenance procedures that go along with them, AGE technicians don’t really have daily routines set in stone. The layout of their days depends on the equipment present in their shop, and the reason it’s there.
“You can be assembling a maintenance stand, or load testing a bomb lift or load banking a Dash 60 to make sure it's giving out the right voltage,” Goggin said. “It’s different everyday.”
Regardless of the many challenges faced while maintaining numerous pieces of equipment floating around the flight line, AGE technicians, trying to keep up with the mission tempo of Kadena, find their work not only doable, but rewarding, Poultney explained.
“AGE is a great career field, probably the best one out there,” he stated. “Without us they wouldn’t be able to maintain the jets, which in turn directly affects the mission, so we are very much a vital part of Kadena’s mission.”