The 140th Wing’s fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft is over 30-years-old, and the Airmen of the 140th Maintenance Group, Colorado Air National Guard are responsible for ensuring the fighter jets remain mission-capable to defend the nation 24/7.
Maintaining the fleet is no small task according to U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Neeley, inspection section supervisor, 140th Maintenance Squadron. The jets are capable of flying at twice the speed of sound and pulling 9G turns in order to accomplish the air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, which puts significant strain on the aging aircraft.
Neeley leads the phase team conducting in-depth inspections of the aircraft every 300 hours of flight, which includes inspecting the jet inside and out in order to find and repair any damage or possible vulnerabilities. He said he initially realized a need for change during the year-long preparation for a combat deployment during 2019.
“The fleet average was well below our goal,” Neeley said. “The airframe was revealing more and more signs of aging, and the need to focus on preparing our team and equipment for the mission ahead was the motivating factor.”
Through pure determination and many extra duty hours, the maintenance team met the aircraft requirements before heading to Afghanistan in support of U.S. Central Command, completing four phase inspections in the last 90 days and solidifying flying hours for both the home station and deployed missions, Neeley said.
Prior to the deployment, these phase inspections took an average of 32 work days, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Kneuer, commander, 140th Maintenance Group, said.
“Our goal was to reduce the number of phase work days as well as induce opportunities to accomplish preventative maintenance simultaneously, resulting in improved sortie reliability,” Kneuer said.
During the deployment and over the course of the next several months, the maintenance team developed ways to better streamline the phase inspection process.
This process included “incorporating a pre-phase meeting to prioritize work that needed to be accomplished and eliminating tasks that are not required at the time the jet is in phase,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Marien, commander, 140th Maintenance Squadron, said. “The managers of the phase dock are credited with taking lessons learned from the deployment and changing their processes.”
Now, we more effectively manage what work gets accomplished during phase instead of taking on extra jobs that would make the process take longer. We plan to do those extra jobs at different times throughout the year so that all scheduled maintenance can be as efficient as possible.”
The changes that were implemented proved to be effective, according to Marien.
“By running the phase dock more efficiently, the Inspection Section has reduced the average phase work days from 32 down to 25 for a 22 percent efficiency increase,” Marien said.
Kneuer, having spent almost 19 years in the maintenance career field, said he has a special appreciation for the progress being made.
“These victories in a maintenance group complex take time to realize, require a large weight of effort, and are due to awesome maintenance professionals across more than one section,” Kneuer said.
Neeley said members of the inspection section are equally proud to see their innovative efforts pay off.
“It is exciting, to say the least, seeing the whole team perform with incredible pace, proficiency and quality not seen before,” Neeley said. “There will be continuous improvement as we empower our most innovative Airmen and reflect upon ways we can be better.”