Airman 1st Class Lauren Buchholz, a 35th Maintenance Squadron armament maintenance member, applies lubricant to an M61A1 Vulcan gun system barrel at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 22, 2020. The almasol syntemp lubricant is used to prevent corrosion and overheating of the barrel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class China M. Shock)
Airman 1st Class Lauren Buchholz, a 35th Maintenance Squadron armament maintenance member, applies lubricant to an M61A1 Vulcan gun system barrel at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Jan. 22, 2020. The almasol syntemp lubricant is used to prevent corrosion and overheating of the barrel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class China M. Shock)

Armament back shop locked, loaded

by Airman 1st Class China M. Shock
35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- From rotary launchers to gun systems, the 35th Maintenance Squadron armament back shop ensures the lethality of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Airmen continually test, repair and perform daily maintenance on alternate mission equipment such as aircraft pylons, missile launchers, bomb racks and targeting pods and guns.

“We are very crucial to the mission,” said Tech Sgt. Jacob Gatrost, a 35th MXS armament maintenance floor supervisor. “In our shop, we maintain all the launchers, gun systems and everything that stores and drops ammunitions.”

Aircraft armament technicians are tasked to do inventory, inspect, diagnose, troubleshoot and repair maintenance anomalies on over 1,800 mission critical assets.

They document all performed actions into various databases used throughout the 35th Fighter Wing to identify trends and determine real time aircraft and mission readiness.

“As armament Wild Weasels, we are the technical experts on the weapons components of the F-16 Fighting Falcon,” said Master Sgt. Zachary Brown, the 35th MXS armament maintenance section chief. “When our pilots want to drop a laser guided bomb, launch a heat-seeking missile, or fire 20MM incendiary rounds out of the M61A1 Vulcan Cannon, we ensure all weapons system components perform flawlessly to save our brothers and sisters in the field or suppress our adversary’s capabilities.”

According to Gatrost the back shop received no failures when it came to the quality verification inspections in 2019, which is a win for the 35th FW.

“We have yet to come across another flight that can beat this metric,” said Brown. “For us, 2019 was a year of gun system maintenance perfection. Training has been a vital part of our success. We ensure supervisors are clear and take the time to provide feedback. Our Airmen’s teamwork and maintenance mastery of this critical asset has set the standard in the weapon’s community.”

A quality verification inspection is a weeklong process consisting of 1,700 steps.

“To inspect a gun system like the M61A1 Vulcan gun system, it must first be completely dismantled,” said Gatrost. “All the components within the gun system then must be checked and put back together within five days before the quality insurance inspector comes in.”

Out of the 1,700 steps, it takes either three minor or one major discrepancy to fail an inspection.

The Airmen achieved zero fails through calendar year 2019 on 33 straight gun systems, each system containing 29 major components, 903 maintenance steps and 247 inspection tasks.

“Armament back shop personnel are the backbone of the weapons community,” said Master Sgt. David Yocom, the 35th MXS armament flight chief. “We ensure the lethality and reliability of the F-16 weapons system by maintaining various alternate mission equipment and the M61A1 Vulcan gun system. This level of work requires discipline, attention to detail and patience, as the volume of maintenance can be overwhelming.”

According to Brown the back shop maintains the major components of why adversaries fear Misawa Air Base aircraft. The back shop’s management and maintenance ensures no matter the mission requirements set forth for the Wild Weasels, Misawa AB is always ready to generate any type of fire power necessary.

“Our Airmen’s drive is the fuel enabling us to meet these challenges head on. I am always impressed by our Airmen’s resiliency and dedication to the mission,” said Yocom.

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