HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
The 49th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Phase Inspection Section is responsible for performing intermediate maintenance on several dozen F-16 Vipers from the 849th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. During this aircraft inspection, they take the jet apart and inspect high-fail areas throughout the aircraft.
In 2019, the team shaved off 23K man hours while increasing their inspection rates by 20%. This revamp made them the fastest F-16 phase inspection team in the Air Force.
“The flightline is like NASCAR,” said Senior Airman James Clark, 49th EMS Phase Inspection Section technician. “Aircraft fly in and out and only stop for minor fixes; then they’re back out again doing the mission.”
However, sometimes these aircraft need a more in-depth examination, which warrants the phase inspection team to step in.
“It's really important for us to take off the aircraft panels and get our eyes in there because they're not performing major inspections on the flightline unless they have to,” said Tech. Sgt. Zacharia Myers, 49th EMS Phase Inspection Section noncommissioned officer in charge. “Every 400 hours, someone needs to put eyes on areas that are overlooked on the flightline. When you're 30,000 feet up in the air, performing maneuvers, you can’t afford for something to break.”
Not only does getting under the F-16 and performing heavier maintenance add valuable flying hours to the jet, so does having an inspection team that goes above and beyond.
“We take on a lot of tasks that are not phase related,” said Myers. “We try to knock out as many tasks as possible, so the flightline guys have more time for their day-to-day tasks and the jets have limited downtime.”
While the team consistently puts in maximum effort to expedite the process of maintaining the aircraft, the Airmen still enjoy working with their hands and seeing the finished product right before their eyes.
“On the flightline, you launch the jet out, you see it fly and that's a good feeling,” said Staff Sgt. Brandon Watson, 49th EMS Phase Inspection Section dock chief. “There’s something about taking the aircraft and ripping it apart, doing an in-depth inspection on everything that you wouldn't normally do on the flightline, and then putting a finished product back in the hangar.”
The appreciation of finishing the product and improving at every step possible is what helped this team get F-16s back in the air faster than anyone in the Air Force last year. It works in-part because of the value placed on the ideas of every team member.
“I am a firm believer in best practices,” said Myers. “I encourage my team to speak up if they have an idea for innovation. We also pick the brain of newcomers in the shop and even look to other bases to see if they’re doing something better than us. It’s all about striving for improvement.”