Repairing a wounded Falcon - the mission of Aircraft structural maintenance
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- "I'm warning you ahead of time - most shops say 'be careful' when entering certain areas - but we really mean it," said Tech. Sgt. Adam Corey. "Try not to breathe in too much."
Corey, a 35th Maintenance Squadron NCO in charge of corrosion control, issued the command before stepping into the aircraft structural maintenance workshop.
Greeted by the thick, pervading smell of painting primer, strengthened by the existing humidity, Corey made his way to the most prominent object in the shop - the body of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, freshly painted, awaiting decals.
When an aircraft is grounded due to physical damage or natural wear-and-tear, it is the aircraft structural maintenance shop's responsibility to repair it, either by fabricating a piece for repair, or crafting the necessary parts.
"We work with the airframe, ensuring its ability to fly," said Corey. "We are actively engaged on a daily basis with every other flightline back shop entity on the airfield while providing 24-hour coverage."
Misawa's aircraft structural maintenance shop is manned by 23 Airmen who work around the clock, interchanging and performing tasks ranging from printing decals, painting, working with electronics and creating parts of aircraft.
"The corrosion and sheet metal shops work together, having a hand in every part of an aircraft, everything comes to us," Staff Sgt. Lonzo Martin, 35 MXS aircraft structural maintenance craftsman. "To us, the aircraft are all the same, but the complexity of the repair is what determines who works together and when."
The F-16, a lightweight fighter aircraft, requires the intervention of the engineering flight before Corey and Martin's team can begin working on it. Their coordinated efforts all lead to enhancing Misawa's mission of power projection in the Indo-Asian-Pacific region.
"There are limitations we have to work with, and often we have to receive further guidance from engineering, in regards to the F-16," said Martin. "Even though we can identify the steps to repair it, another set of eyes has to be on it before we send it out to sortie."
In addition to playing a major part on the operations field, the aircraft structural maintenance flight contributes to the mission from a financial standpoint by manufacturing their own parts for repair.
"We save quite a bit of money and time by fabricating our own parts within our shop," Corey said. "Cutting things like contracting and shipping costs contribute immensely, but it also saves a lot of time."
A vital player in the 35th Fighter Wing's mission of "fight tonight", Corey and Martin's shop patches up any wounded Fighting Falcons, allowing them to sortie immediately.
When their day is over and the sound of a jet roars into the sky, the aircraft structural maintenance flight knows they've done their job right and take pride in their contribution.
"I get a lot of satisfaction from sending our jets to sorties successfully," said Martin. "Knowing that I contributed to that, that our shop did that, is what makes it all worthwhile."