Keen eye leads to safety of 1,200 F-16s

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Susan Stout
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
An astute observation by a noncommissioned officer here has resulted in widespread changes to maintenance requirements affecting more than 1,200 F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.

While performing inspections on an F-16, Tech. Sgt. Jason Anderson, a 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection technician, discovered cracks on a wing attachment fitting that had no inspection requirements.

The finding led to a rewrite of technical orders of F-16s Air Force-wide.

The wing attachment fittings, commonly referred to as finger braces, are aluminum pieces used to attach each wing to the fuselage of the F-16. There are four upper and four lower finger braces on each wing.

In an effort to determine if the damaged finger brace was an isolated incident caused by stress or if it affected the entire fleet of F-16s, officials in the 56th Maintenance Group directed inspections of eight additional aircraft.

"The inspections uncovered cracks on multiple finger braces and the findings were (forwarded) to senior wing leadership," said Senior Master Sgt. David Allen, 56th EMS fabrication flight chief. "Engineers at Hill Air Force Base (Utah) determined the findings affected about 1,200 Block 30 F-16s Air Force-wide."

According to strict technical data, damaged finger braces can be replaced, but not more than two braces per wing. Damage to more than two finger braces requires wing replacement. The cost for wing replacement is $69,000 and can take up to 90 days at the Hill AFB F-16 depot.

"Our fabrication flight professionals worked with other key sections within the maintenance group to identify and (forward) information about these significant defects with potentially catastrophic consequences and quickly took actions to mitigate the impact on our mission," said Lt. Col. James Broome, 56th EMS commander.

Damaged finger braces from wing aircraft were initially sent to the Hill AFB depot to have new braces drilled, which took about 14 days.

Tech. Sgt. Mark Barber, a 56th EMS machinist, helped reduce turnaround time for replacement from 14 days to one day by hand-carrying finger braces to an Arizona Air National Guard machine shop in Tucson as an alternative to shipping them to Hill for drilling.

"We certainly were not satisfied with a two-week turnaround to have the replacement finger braces drilled; but even after reducing that to only one day with support from the (Arizona) Air National Guard, we still strove to obtain the capability here to further reduce the time our valuable aircraft resources were unavailable to perform Luke's mission." Broome said. "EMS's machine shop acquired the knowledge and equipment to match-drill finger braces at Luke, which further reduced replacement time to only two hours."

Luke is the first field-level, active-duty installation to have the capability to match-drill finger braces, said Allen.

"Since the rewrite of technical orders, installations throughout the Air Force have been calling us to see how we adapted the machines here to fix the problem," he said. (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)