By Tech. Sgt. Melanie Casineau, 104FW/PA
/ Published April 21, 2011
(Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.) -- The 104th Fighter Wing from Barnes Air National Guard Base, Westfield, Massachusetts has been deployed to Tyndall Air Force Base Fla. since Saturday April 9th, 2011. They are participating in a training mission called Combat Archer, the exercise portion of the Weapon System Evaluation Program (WSEP). WSEP is an Air Force Program that evaluates the effectiveness of all Air Force Weapon Systems, from the missiles and guns to the aircraft that employ them.
The On the night of April 19th, after a good training flight for aircraft number 064, the F-15 Eagle's crew chief, Senior Airman John Yates performed his routine post-flight inspection. As he worked his way around the aircraft he was startled to find an eight inch crack in the gun door panel. "A half inch to an inch crack can be normal (due to the strain of combat flight) and easy to repair. An eight inch crack is very odd, and requires more extensive work to repair then a routine surface abrasion."
"A standard patch would take a few hours" said Staff Sgt. Jeff King, a member of the 104th Fighter Wing Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He added that this structural issue would be far more time intensive to repair.
The evening maintenance crew is responsible for ensuring the aircraft are ready to launch the next morning, but this repair was unable to be done during the twilight hours. In order to get it done right, the 104th Maintenance team needed some help from the host unit at Tyndall Air Force Base. Their sheet metal shop, and their associated tools and equipment were needed, and unfortunately, they were closed until the morning.
Had the crack not been found "There could have been catastrophic damage (to the aircraft)" explained Master Sgt. Gary Allen, the maintenance production controller. He continued by explaining that an engine could have received FOD (Foreign Object Damage) or the aircraft flying behind could have been damaged from any debris that could have fallen off the lead jet.
Sgt. King and Staff Sergeant Nathaniel Poudrier, began the repair first thing in the morning, working against a very short timeline. The effected Eagle was scheduled to fly in the afternoon and perform aerial gun training for one of the pilots, so time was not a luxury. King and Poudrier integrated into the Tyndall team and started working. This event demonstrates the true value of this type of training deployment. In the past, the Guard and Reserves may not have been able to work seamlessly together with their active counterparts; but with the help of aggressive training, and shared resources, you would not be able to pick the Guard member out from the crowd.
The origins of the crack are still unknown; it is suspected to have originated from the aircraft pulling many G's (force of gravity) while the aircraft was performing combat training while assigned to its original unit, before recently being transferred to Barnes in late 2010. Aircraft 064 is nearly 30 years old, and the stress of training and combat leave its toll; the members of the Mass. Air National Guard work tirelessly to keep these aircraft flying, defending our nation...through hard work and training, 064 was able to fly that afternoon and more valuable training was accomplished.