Phase: A story of mission dedication, team work

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- As the 480th Fighter Squadron enforced the no-fly zone over the Libyan skies, the 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron Maintenance Flight F-16 Fighting Falcon Phase section ensured that those aircraft were able to continue their mission.

The flight did that by pushing the aircraft through the required phase inspection process in a short period of time.

"When the Libya operations began, nine F-16s were already tasked to come into Phase to receive the inspections needed for them to be combat capable," said Senior Master Sgt. Brent Salvadori, 52nd EMS Maintenance flight chief. "The airframes are required to come in for inspection, so there was a lot of work to be done."

Phase is an in-depth inspection of the airframe and its components. Every aircraft must be inspected by the phase section every 400 flying hours and all components must be functionally tested before being approved to fly again. The plane is de-paneled; functions tested; and hydraulic, flight control and avionics components are inspected. Once the airframe is certified safe and operational, it is reassembled and returned to the fighter squadron.

"We repair anything that needs to be fixed. Once all the repairs are done, we perform a full systems integrity check to ensure no additional work needs to be done, and then we put it all back together," Sergeant Salvadori said. "We are also looking for leaks, cracks and fatigue from sustained flight. Additionally, we also use the phase concept to perform time-change requirements. There are calendar and hourly time changes to keep the plane fully functional."

Even though the F-16s deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, the phase inspection still needed to be accomplished.

"We flew planes back here in intervals so that we could have a steady flow for the inspection process and get the jets done and returned to Aviano," he said.

To accomplish the inspections, the phase section moved to around-the-clock shifts and seven-day operations. Six crew chiefs from the 480th Aircraft Maintenance Unit also supplemented the phase technicians to sustain the 24-hour operations.

"Because so many planes needed to be phased in such a short amount of time, we implemented double docking, which is when two aircraft are in phase at one time," he said. "If it wasn't for the supplemental manning we received from the flightline, we wouldn't have been able to sustain that."

"It was a very stressful time for phase," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Pugh, 52nd EMS F-16 Phase floor chief. "We were spread thin on manning and had to get the jets turned around, so there was a lot of emphasis on getting the job done right the first time."

It took only 26 days for the phase section to completely inspect and repair the F-16s and return them to Aviano AB.

"We were completely finishing an F-16 in only three to four days, whereas it normally takes five days to turn an aircraft around," Sergeant Salvadori said. "Typically it is a challenge because there are components that other shops have to inspect, like avionics or engines maintenance. When the mission is local flying, maintaining the aircraft on the flightline takes priority. If they have time after that, they come help us with phase."

"Since most of the aircraft were deployed to Italy, we were all able to work together to get the phase inspections completed," he said. "Teamwork was evident across the maintenance group. It was truly remarkable that we all focused on the task at hand and got the job completed. We couldn't have done it without everyone else helping us."

Preventative maintenance played an important factor in the efficiency of the phase flow.

"There weren't any major leaks or cracks on the aircraft, so it was evident that the maintainers had really taken quality care of the F-16s," Sergeant Salvadori said. "Things were getting fixed on the flightline, instead of waiting for phase to fix problems. That really says a lot for the 480th AMU maintainers and their dedication to taking care of the planes."

Through strategic planning and scheduling to the phase inspectors who ensured everything was done correctly and efficiently, Spangdahlem's F-16s were able to complete operations in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn and turn around and deploy in support of Operation New Dawn in Iraq.

"Knowing that we were able to directly support operations by ensuring the aircraft were fit to fly was quite an accomplishment," Sergeant Pugh said. "We really came together and made it happen, which I'm very proud of."