WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Equipped a variety of conventional munitions, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is capable of performing complex missions around the globe.
Airmen at the 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase crew are tasked to perform detailed inspections to make sure this complex jet remains air ready. These maintainers work around the clock to keep the aircraft's accuracy, maneuverability and maintenance up to par. "We break down the jet, tear it apart and put it back together," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler, a 442nd MXS phase dock technician. "A flying product is a working product; we open up all panels to inspect engine, frame, canopy and other critical components for any discrepancies." The crews operate in two different phases, which are based on the amount of time necessary to breakdown the aircraft, the severity of any discrepancies and what repairs are needed.
"Every 500 flight hours, a jet is brought into a phase," said Senior Master Sgt. Kellie Askew, the 442nd MXS phase dock flight chief. "When one is rolled in, it takes approximately 15 days to complete a number one phase. A number two phase is more critical and can last from 19 to 20 days. In between these phases, we sometimes have a week break but other times we roll right from one phase into the next." Crew members perform landing gear operations, door rig and flight safety circuit checks during this phase. For the latter, they monitor the air speed on the A-10.
The phase two inspection is done after 1,000 flight hours and covers items such as the rug carriage, oil, fuel and oil filters, and igniter leads.
Fuel filters must be replaced because they collect the impurities left by fuel and can produce metal shavings. Any metal shavings in the fuel pump are an indication of wear internally, Schuler said. "Oil changes are done to ensure there is no old oil left in the engines," Schuler said. "When oil is left behind, it tends to break down every 1,000 hours, which causes difficulties for the A-10s." Phase two also involves inspecting and ensuring the steering unit functions properly. "The steering unit is a component on the nose landing gear strut (and is) inspected to ensure the pilots are able to steer the plane while taxiing," Askew said. "The circuit breaker panels are inspected to ensure chafe wires aren't rubbing against each other. Every electric system on an aircraft goes through a circuit breaker panel; if a chafe wire does rub against another wire, it causes the circuit breaker to pop and will save the aircraft from going down. If there is a weak circuit breaker, it will cause a catastrophe."
In addition to the dangers of a defective aircraft, there are many hazardous factors within the repair shop that necessitate protection, said Jim Gum, the 442nd MXS phase dock coordinator. "One of the biggest hazards in the shop is noise," Gum said. "When de-paneling an aircraft with an air hammer or operating a hydraulic mule, hearing protection is required to prevent hearing loss. Using compressed air can blow debris into your eyes and cause serious irritation or infection, so we all wear hazard goggles." Gum added that rubber gloves and face shields are necessary when working with aircraft fluids because they can be absorbed in the skin. Despite the hazards of the job, the positive aspects outweigh any possible risks, Askew said. "I like coordinating with other shops to get the job done." he said. "I enjoy refurbishing aircraft to put them back in the air and give them 500 more flight hours; it's like I'm giving life to them."