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Aircraft maintenance: It's just a phase

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler, 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician, removes panel F-83 off an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 11, 2013. Removing this panel enables maintenance techs to inspect the A-10 and locate any internal discrepancies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler removes panel F-83 off an A-10 Thunderbolt II June 11, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. Removing this panel enables maintenance techs to inspect the A-10 and locate any internal discrepancies. Schuler is a 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

Tech. Sgt. Rodney Transfiguracion, 442nd Maintenance Squadron repair and reclamation technician, repairs canopy closing mechanisms on an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 11, 2013. Transfiguracion is working to determine why this particular canopy is not locking; the canopy must lock to ensure the pilot is safe and secure in the cockpit. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Rodney Transfiguracion repairs canopy closing mechanisms on an A-10 Thunderbolt II June 11, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. Transfiguracion is working to determine why this particular canopy is not locking; the canopy must lock to ensure the pilot is safe and secure in the cockpit. Transfiguracion is a 442nd Maintenance Squadron repair and reclamation technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler, 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician, and Senior Master Sgt. Kellie Askew, 442nd MXS phase dock flight chief, review technical data on the canopy of an A-10 Thunderbolt II at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.,  June 11, 2013. They are searching for any faults within the A-10’s canopy-closing mechanisms. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler and Senior Master Sgt. Kellie Askew review technical data on the canopy of an A-10 Thunderbolt II June 11, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. They are searching for any faults within the A-10’s canopy-closing mechanisms. Schuler is a 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician and Askew is the 442nd MXS phase dock flight chief. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler, 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician, grabs a round mirror and flashlight for an A-10 Thunderbolt II engine inspection at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 11, 2013.  The mirror helps technicians see into spaces of the jet too tight to look into directly and the flashlight is used to illuminate areas within engines, panels and wheel wells. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler grabs a round mirror and flashlight for an A-10 Thunderbolt II engine inspection June 11, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. The mirror helps technicians see into spaces of the jet too tight to look into directly and the flashlight is used to illuminate areas within engines, panels and wheel wells. Schuler is a 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler, 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician, inspects clamps on electrical and hydraulic line hoses on an A-10 Thunderbolt II engine at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., June 11, 2013.  This inspection ensures proper alignment and spacing between wires. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler inspects clamps on electrical and hydraulic line hoses on an A-10 Thunderbolt II engine June 11, 2013, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. This inspection ensures proper alignment and spacing between wires. Schuler is a 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase dock technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keenan Berry)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. (AFNS) -- Equipped a variety of conventional munitions, the A-10 Thunderbolt II is capable of performing complex missions around the globe.

Airmen at the 442nd Maintenance Squadron phase crew are tasked to perform detailed inspections to make sure this complex jet remains air ready.

These maintainers work around the clock to keep the aircraft's accuracy, maneuverability and maintenance up to par.

"We break down the jet, tear it apart and put it back together," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Schuler, a 442nd MXS phase dock technician. "A flying product is a working product; we open up all panels to inspect engine, frame, canopy and other critical components for any discrepancies."

The crews operate in two different phases, which are based on the amount of time necessary to breakdown the aircraft, the severity of any discrepancies and what repairs are needed.

"Every 500 flight hours, a jet is brought into a phase," said Senior Master Sgt. Kellie Askew, the 442nd MXS phase dock flight chief. "When one is rolled in, it takes approximately 15 days to complete a number one phase. A number two phase is more critical and can last from 19 to 20 days. In between these phases, we sometimes have a week break but other times we roll right from one phase into the next."

Crew members perform landing gear operations, door rig and flight safety circuit checks during this phase. For the latter, they monitor the air speed on the A-10.

The phase two inspection is done after 1,000 flight hours and covers items such as the rug carriage, oil, fuel and oil filters, and igniter leads.

Fuel filters must be replaced because they collect the impurities left by fuel and can produce metal shavings. Any metal shavings in the fuel pump are an indication of wear internally, Schuler said.

"Oil changes are done to ensure there is no old oil left in the engines," Schuler said. "When oil is left behind, it tends to break down every 1,000 hours, which causes difficulties for the A-10s."

Phase two also involves inspecting and ensuring the steering unit functions properly.

"The steering unit is a component on the nose landing gear strut (and is) inspected to ensure the pilots are able to steer the plane while taxiing," Askew said. "The circuit breaker panels are inspected to ensure chafe wires aren't rubbing against each other. Every electric system on an aircraft goes through a circuit breaker panel; if a chafe wire does rub against another wire, it causes the circuit breaker to pop and will save the aircraft from going down. If there is a weak circuit breaker, it will cause a catastrophe."

In addition to the dangers of a defective aircraft, there are many hazardous factors within the repair shop that necessitate protection, said Jim Gum, the 442nd MXS phase dock coordinator.

"One of the biggest hazards in the shop is noise," Gum said. "When de-paneling an aircraft with an air hammer or operating a hydraulic mule, hearing protection is required to prevent hearing loss. Using compressed air can blow debris into your eyes and cause serious irritation or infection, so we all wear hazard goggles."

Gum added that rubber gloves and face shields are necessary when working with aircraft fluids because they can be absorbed in the skin.
Despite the hazards of the job, the positive aspects outweigh any possible risks, Askew said.

"I like coordinating with other shops to get the job done." he said. "I enjoy refurbishing aircraft to put them back in the air and give them 500 more flight hours; it's like I'm giving life to them."