Tactical aircraft maintainers ensure F-16 safety

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Out of all the crew chiefs here, very few are tactical aircraft maintainers tasked with the responsibility of inspecting F-16 Fighting Falcon intakes and exhausts.

These inspections can only be performed by certified crew chiefs, ensuring aircraft are safe to fly.

“It doesn’t just come — it’s a recommendation,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Martin Perez, 52nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintainer and dedicated crew chief, who was recommended for the job by his leadership.

The position requires candidates to attend the intake and exhaust inspection certification course, then be checked off by a certifier, said Perez, who has inspected intakes for four years.

“Only certain crew chiefs with enough experience, who are trusted by leadership, will be sent through the class required to perform these inspections,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Musil, 52nd AMXS tactical aircraft maintainer and dedicated crew chief, who has held the position for a year.

The one-day class teaches how to check intakes and exhausts for fuel leaks, damage, or foreign objects, said Perez.

“Every time the aircraft flies, or during inspection, we have to jump in the intake,” Perez said. Inspectors make sure no foreign objects got inside and damaged any blades.

A nick no thicker than a fingernail could escalate into a much larger problem if not immediately fixed, Musil said. What may appear to be a small scratch may be a crack on a structural component. Intake and exhaust inspections are important because each F-16 has only one engine.

Maintainers wear a bright yellow intake suit while conducting inspections to keep from damaging the aircraft.

“People call it a bunny suit,” Perez said. “It’s special because of the material it’s made out of. It has no pockets, no zippers, nothing. It doesn’t scratch anything. It ensures you’re not carrying anything in there. You’re going into the intake to inspect for foreign objects, or foreign object damage, so you don’t want to leave a foreign object in there.”

The only objects tactical aircraft maintainers take in the intake are a flashlight and a mirror, which they keep accountable at all times, Perez said. Although the inspections have some limitations, each maintainer develops their own technique.

Each maintainer has a method to climb in an intake, Perez said. There is not much room, it can be slippery, and the strut in the middle of the intake cannot be touched or used as leverage.

Another challenge tactical aircraft maintainers deal with is balancing their regular job duties. Intake and exhaust inspections are the first priority, but each maintainer has other tasks.

“You don’t slow down from doing the other stuff,” Perez said. “It’s more responsibility. Once you get high in your skill levels, that’s where you get the special certifications, like your intake inspections.”

Through dedication and attention to detail, the added responsibilities do not deter tactical aircraft maintainers from accomplishing their mission of keeping F-16s safe, damage-free, and ready to fly in a moments notice.