Airman 1st Class Lewis McNeal marshals an F-15 Eagle piloted by Capt. Mike Jones during Exercise Beverly High 08-3 Jan. 9 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Kadena AB F-15s were grounded since November, but 65 percent of the fleet was cleared to resume flight operations. Airman McNeal is assigned to the 18th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and Captain Jones is from the 44th Fighter Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Dave DeRemer)
by Maj. John S. Hutcheson
18th Wing Public Affairs
1/14/2008 - KADENA AIR BASE, Japan (AFPN) -- Officials from the 18th Wing anticipate resuming flight operations here Jan. 14 as 39 Kadena Air Base F-15 C and D model Eagles are cleared to fly again after remaining on the ground for more than two months as a result of a fleetwide stand-down.
The order to resume flight operations came from Gen. Carrol H. "Howie" Chandler, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, at the recommendation of Air Combat Command officials.
The Air Force stood down its entire F-15 fleet, roughly 700 aircraft, after a Nov. 2 accident in Missouri in which an Air National Guard F-15C crashed as a result of structural failure. Since then, the 18th Wing and other F-15 units around the Air Force conducted a series of exhaustive technical inspections focused on the aircraft's upper longerons near the canopy of the aircraft.
The longerons are major structural components that run along the length and side of the aircraft. A series of Air Force time compliance technical orders directed 18th Wing officials to inspect the longerons for cracks and to take thickness measurements of the longerons at 84 different points.
Maintenance experts here identified a total of two aircraft with cracks in the longerons. In addition, officials at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center are still evaluating thickness measurement data from 16 other Kadena AB F-15s. The aircraft have at least one longeron that does not meet manufacturer's blueprint specifications and will remain on stand-down until further notice.
Experts at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center will analyze the data from these remaining aircraft over the next four weeks. Once the analysis is completed, they will determine which aircraft will need further inspections or repair before returning them to flight.
"Our maintainers have been working around the clock to complete these inspections in a thorough and deliberate manner," said Col. John Harris, the 18th Maintenance Group commander. "It's been an incredible amount of work and I'm proud of the way our Airmen responded to the call."
The process to ensure the base's 50 F-15s met the requirements for clearance to fly again has been intensive. The inspections, detailed in a series of TCTOs, were conducted using ultrasonic measurement techniques, dye penetrant, and other sophisticated non-destructive inspection measures.
"Restoring our Eagles is an issue of both safety and combat capability, and we take that very seriously," Colonel Harris said.
"The F-15 is critical to the defense of Japan and for maintaining peace and stability in the region," said Brig. Gen Brett T. Williams, the 18th Wing commander. "Our priority in resuming flight operations is to fill our operational taskings and requirements for the defense of Japan and to do it safely. As a result of these inspections, I'm confident we will do that."
Perhaps no one will be happier when the Kadena AB F-15s go airborne than the pilots who fly them.
"Our F-15s being airborne again means we can resume training our pilots for their wartime defense missions," said Col. Douglas Carney, the 18th Operations Group deputy commander. "The many missions the F-15 could be tasked for require a high level of skill from our pilots, which in turn requires frequent training missions to maintain the appropriate level of proficiency."
During the stand-down, 18th Wing pilots logged extra time in the simulators and in the classroom to stay sharp and to be ready to climb back into the cockpit.
"This allowed our pilots to continue some excellent training without actually getting airborne," Colonel Carney said. "But there's no substitute for the real thing."