Avionics and Instrument Flight helps resurrect targeting devices

Robins Air Force Base, GA -- In the world of Air Force weapons systems, few technologies are sent to the morgue and later revived.

But a second chance at life is just what the Pave Penny pods receive when returned to Robins and the Pave Penny pod shop, in silver boxes known as caskets.

Members of the shop, which is part of the Avionics and Instrument Flight, not only operate on the different components of the pod, it restores the pod itself.

"When we ship them out, we no longer call these containers caskets, because they are no longer dead," said Roy Payne, an electronics technician. "When they come out of here they are going out in a cradle. You've heard of cradle to the grave; well this is from grave to the cradle."

The Pave Penny pod, a targeting device used on an A-10 Thunderbolt II, allows troops on the ground to illuminate targets for A-10 pilots to eliminate. The technology used in the pod is from the '70s, but remains important to the war effort because of its ability to put the troops on the ground in charge of target selection.

"They can decide the target that gets hit, rather than relying on the pilot. That's the big difference and that's why everybody loves it," said John Dunn, Avionics and Instrument Flight chief.

Knowing the importance of the mission is one of the reasons the flight's maintainers are determined to supply warfighters in all branches of service with the equipment needed to win the fight.

It wasn't long ago the Air Force had backshops located throughout the Air Force in various locations both stateside and overseas where the Pave Penny pod was repaired. However, today the Air Force is midstream in an effort to phase the equipment and the Pave Penny pod workload to Robins from 10 different wings at 15 different bases.

"The decision was made to do away with the backshops, and move it all to one centralized location," Mr. Dunn said.

The move began in July 2007 when the flight pulled 13 vocational technicians from some of their other missions to the Pave Penny mission. Before the newly created team could start accepting the larger workload and equipment from the backshops being closed, the expanding mission had to find a new home. So the new workers and their equipment moved from Bldg. 640 to Bldg.158. In October, the workload and equipment from some of the other bases began arriving.

The Pave Penny pod shop has long been the primary for repairing and testing the subassembly repairable units for some time. Only recently has its mission expanded to be the primary repair unit for the entire pod.

"We make sure it is directly centered and can hit the crosshairs of its target," said Richard Newton, an integrated system technician. "At a mile, it can hit its target within 20 feet."

One of the many pod devices the shop repairs is the receiver, which is like the heart of the Pave Penny pod, according to the vocational technicians.

"It's great to know this receiver we are working on bolts to an A-10 and helps us defend our freedoms," said David Batchelor, an electronics technician.

The technicians all agree it is inspiring to know the importance of their work to the war effort.

"It's a pretty good feeling to know individuals out there are waiting on us and that they can't do their job properly without us," said Jeff Lamb, an electronics technician.

The shop utilizes an irreplaceable legacy tester known as the Comet-ANALOG 66FH-5, to ensure the pods are ready to return to the fight.

Because the tester is somewhat antiquated, the shop's workers work hard to ensure the tester and its parts are available to help the technicians continue to meet the needs of the Air Force and the A-10 fleet.

The shop has only a few spare parts for the tester, so if a part malfunctions, the technicians have to repair the tester component before they can fix the pods they are responsible for. The part has to be repaired rather than replaced because the parts are designed specifically to communicate with the Comets tester.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; the shop will soon be receiving a Versatile Depot Automatic Test Station, or VDATS, tester, which will allow the shop to focus on fixing the pods rather than the equipment needed to certify the pods as war ready.

The challenges associated with the tester and the ever increasing workload hasn't stopped the shop workers from doing their job and providing the warfighter with a great product.

"They wanted 10 for March and we gave them 24," Mr. Dunn said.

Last year the shop only produced five pods and now the shop has been producing double digits for the last three months, he added.

"Our goal is to provide the customer with whatever they need, when they need it," Mr. Dunn said.