Robins engineers work to get F-15s flying again

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78 ABW/PA
An F-15 C located at Warrior Air Base made the ultimate sacrifice Dec. 6, as it underwent surgery for the greater good of the Air Force's F-15 Eagle A-D model fleet.

It was part of a major effort by the 830th Aircraft Sustainment Group to help the fleet find its way back to the clouds.

"Our role is to determine what should be done in the field to determine if these aircraft are fit to fly," said John Richards, deputy director of the 830th Aircraft Sustainment Group.

Gen. John D. W. Corley, commander of Air Combat Command, directed the stand-down of all F-15 A-D models Dec. 3, following findings by the Accident Investigation Board in the Nov. 2, F-15 C Mishap which resulted in the loss of that aircraft.

The initial findings of the Accident Investigation Board, while at the mishap site Nov. 27, indicate the fleet of F-15s A-D might not be airworthy after a metallurgical analysis of the mishap aircraft. The findings focus specifically on the upper longerons, major structural components of the aircraft, which are located near the canopy of the aircraft and run along the side of the aircraft lengthwise.

It was members of the Robins F-15 engineering team who recommended that a more focused inspection on the longerons be performed to ensure the safety of Airmen.

Though no exact time frame is available for when the inspection or Time Compliance Technical Order will be ready for use throughout the fleet, Mr. Richards said engineers at Robins are working as fast as they can to create the inspection. Once the F-15 engineers create the inspection, it will be used on the entire F-15 A-D fleet; however, the aircraft will not be returned to active service until all the inspections have been completed and the data about the longerons has been analyzed.

Robins F-15 engineers have been working to develop the inspection to isolate the areas of the longerons that are cracking.

However, the engineers couldn't develop an inspection for the longerons without the assistance of the 653rd Combat Logistics Support Squadron. A 10-member team from the squadron could be found at Warrior Air Base preparing an F-15 C for a surgery of sorts Dec. 6 where both of the aircraft's upper longerons were removed and then could be used to establish a nondestructive inspection standard for the F-15s affected by the stand-down. (An NDI is the examination of an object or material with technology that does not affect its future usefulness, which means it can be used without destroying or damaging a product or material.)

"We are working to help write inspection procedures that will be used across the fleet to detect any abnormalities that might be found in the longerons," Mr. Richards said.

The 653rd CLSS team spent their morning preparing the aircraft for the procedure and then returned to Warrior Air Base in the afternoon to begin sawing the longerons off with K-12 Rescue Saws.

An F-15 engineer, Thomas Lamb, who was on-scene with the 653rd CLSS team as they removed the longerons, said the two longerons would be used as samples the engineers could manipulate by adding defects and trying to locate them ultrasonically.

The 653rd CLSS team responsible for cutting the two longerons out of the F-15A were excited their skills with the saws could possibly help the F-15 engineers create an inspection program that would allow F-15s affected by the stand-down to return to the air.

The F-15 that was used for the parts was one of the aircraft used during exercises at Warrior Air Base to help prepare our Airmen for various combat situations, said Master Sgt. Willaim Wheaton, exercise evaluation element chief with the 653rd CLSS.

Once the longerons are removed, the aircraft will be demilitarized and given to the Defense Reutilization Marketing System, where it will be sold as scrap metal. Any profits will be returned to the Department of Defense, Sergeant Wheaton said.

"Hopefully, they will be able to find the problem and get them fixed and back in the air," said Senior Airman Michele Prindle, a depot aircraft structural maintenance journeyman.

Staff Sgt. Edgar Torres, a depot aircraft structural technician, said nothing could stop the 653rd CLSS team from helping the engineers get the parts they need to develop the fleet-wide inspection guidelines.

As of Dec. 4, cracks have been discovered in four other F-15s in the stand-down.

"What we are looking for is relative or similar to the abnormalities that we have seen in these other aircraft," Mr. Richards said.

None of the aircraft found to have abnormalities or cracks in the longerons will be returned to operational status until repairs or replacements have been made. The stand-down does not impact the operational status of the F-15 E Strike Eagle, which is currently being used by coalition central command in the area of responsibility.