Deutsche Luftwaffe

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- 3 a.m. -- the alarm clock sounds. It requires some self-discipline to make it and get up that early. Still half asleep, the "blade" is hurriedly dragged across the face, the hot coffee gulped down. On the way to Holloman, the reason returns to your mind for today's early start -- bombing in El Centro, Calif. At the time I pass the main gate, somewhat more than five hours remain until take-off. This lead time will indeed be needed. One hand to rub the remaining sleep out of the eyes and on the other hand to produce flawless work results -- with an additional challenge to be met today.

A glance at the aircraft maintenance planning system computer display confirms yesterday's flight schedule, with minor changes in regards to manning and configuration, but this is the daily routine in maintenance -- it saves from boredom and trains to remain flexible.

4:30 a.m. -- the assigned maintenance crew chiefs closely review their logbooks, never will there be anything left to chance. After all, it is they who hold the responsibility for 50 million Euro in materiel and two human lives. Next, the status board and the aircraft logbook are checked for what they say. Step-by-step the preflight inspection checklist is gone through while the coffee's effect starts to dwindle ...

At the far side of the aircraft, the second and third aircraft servicing technician, my crew, immerse themselves in a lively conversation about the weekend, but time is pressing. My aircraft still needs to be readied for towing to the live load pad, therefore I remind my crew not to be distracted and start spot-checking their work. After a one-hour impoundment in the shelter and intensive diagnostic maintenance, I notify the dispatcher the aircraft is ready. Quite often, however, it happens that problems are identified which do not allow an aircraft be released for flight at the scheduled time -- meaning, yet again, new arrangements will have to be made.

On my way to the non-air-conditioned break room, I realize the morning sun's first rays are still incoming. New coffee is ready in the kitchenette and will help bridge the time until the live bombs arrive. While having rolls and snacks, information is exchanged, ad-hoc briefings are held, or proof is given of the maintenance crew's flexibility by having to cope with unexpected aircraft reconfiguration tasks. Blessed are those who get the chance to stay with and keep doing the job they were assigned when the day started.

And then it's time for action!

Information is received from munitions that four type BL-755 cluster bombs have been placed behind the aircraft, ready for attachment to the latter. The assigned maintenance crews are taken to the load pad, some 1,200  meters away. With everyone being himself responsible for an adequate supply of drinking water and for protection from the sun, a raid and fight start on the refrigerators and for the officially -- provided sun protection cream, as it is already 7:30 a.m. and the mercury has climbed to 77°F. In an hour, at the latest, the pavement will be shimmering.

We are welcomed by a number of high-ranking superiors, who are supposed to supervise us. With no room at all for mistakes ... live-ammunition operations are always subject to more than the standard four-eye rule.

The previously empty pad, where you normally run into tumbleweeds, now is crowded with airmen busily loading the costly freight, piece by piece, to the aircraft. Evaporated body fluid is only inadequately replenished. Tiredness is spreading. Finally, the one-hour workout is over and last inspections of the attachments are performed and recorded in the aircraft logbook.

The pilots are already standing by while the fully loaded Tornado is, yet again, checked before the aircrew assumes the responsibility for the latter. What follows is daily routine -- the pilots are strapped in, the auxiliary engine is started and voice communications are established. It is getting noisy at the pad, with almost all aircraft simultaneously starting their jet engines. Hopefully everything will go without a hitch, as any requirement to change to alternate aircraft might well result in a series of delays and additional workload. This time, however, things turn out to proceed like clockwork. The Tornados taxi to the arming area, where another maintenance crew -- the last-chance team -- subjects them to a final check, arms the weapons and eventually clears them for take-off.

One after the other, the fighter jets make their unmistakabe, thundering ascent into the sky. Briefly pausing in our job, we look after them with pride as they disappear and hope they will return safely after mission accomplishment. Subsequently comradeship is promoted by assisting the crew in charge of the alternate, or spare, aircraft in removing the "hot" bombs from that plane, in order that everybody will as soon as possible be able to escape from the sun's burning rays and make it to a cold and refreshing drink.

This does not, however, mean there is much time for recovery. It is not only a backlog of work resulting from vacation-related staff shortages that needs to be made up, we also have to get ready and make preparations for the generation of the second batch of sorties scheduled for today.

Although having been at work for no more than six hours so far, almost any one of us is, by now, hit by a daily performance low. In this situation you have to clench your teeth until the late shift finally shows up at 1 p.m. to take over.

On the way home one thinks back on the past day at work. Have all checklists been worked through correctly? Flight safety still remains in one's thoughts. Eventually, tension gives way to coziness and relaxation, and I start thinking about what to do with the rest of the day. First, I will try to make up for some of the night's rest lost, because tomorrow I need to be well rested for yet another day in maintenance.