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Hill experts renovate F-16s for Thailand's air force

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AFPN) -- The first five F-16 Fighting Falcons of 16 being renovated by aircraft experts here left for Thailand recently. The remainder of the modified fighters are scheduled to join the Royal Thai air force by January.

The F-16s, which will be used as air defense fighters, were brought here from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., in pieces on flatbed trucks last September, after being in cocoon storage for several years. Once delivered to Hill's aircraft directorate, workers began disassembling them to look for any complications that may have prevented them from operating at maximum efficiency.

"Each plane had 180 flow days. That's the amount of time from when we get them to when they're ready for delivery," said Wayne Hansen, F-16 production chief foreign military sales regeneration section.

Brandon Bodily, lead mechanic, said crews haven't run into many problems and the birds look pretty good considering how long they've been mothballed. There was almost no corrosion damage, he said.

Of all the hurdles maintenance crews have faced so far, Bodily said getting parts has been one of the most challenging.

"But we're still meeting or beating our deadlines," he said.

Bodily said crews put in about 1,800 hours per F-16 while they take each plane apart and put it back together brand new. Systems are checked out and modifications made to make the newest F-16s to Thailand's aerial fleet the best.

As the F-16s arrive, electricians first make sure the array of wires and systems in the plane is ready.

"We hook the plane to an electrical checkout stand and that tells us where the problems are," said Jerry Hunter, aircraft electrician. "We strip them down before they go to the sheet metal shop, then we build them back up after they're done with them there.

"What we can't repair, we replace. The planes come to us in pieces and our job is to put them back together."

After the aircraft is reassembled and ready, it goes to flight test where crews troubleshoot to find any complications before the plane returns to the sky for test flights.

"These planes came to us from the hangars perfect," said Wesley Wilson, flight test crew chief. "We had some problems with the engines that were manufacturer defects. We sent those away for repairs and put new engines in this first batch. We'll probably put the engines we took out in some of the other planes after (the engines are) repaired."

Wilson and fellow crew chief Bob Renie have 20 years experience each working on F-16s and were at Hill when the 388th Fighter Wing took delivery of the first Falcons. Members of the restoration crew move from one plane to another carrying out the activities of their specialty, but a crew chief is assigned one plane to take care of, ensuring consistency of knowledge as to what repairs have been carried out and what stage the aircraft is in.

"We've seen each of these planes a few times before (they come) through here for depot work," Renie said. "The strength of our crews is they have so much experience.

"On these particular aircraft a big concern was the fuel system because the pilots were flying across the Pacific and were going to be hooking up with tankers almost the whole way," he said. "It was a good feeling to come in the day after they left and hear they all landed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, in perfect condition and ready for the next leg of their ferry to Thailand."

After Hawaii, the F-16s proceeded to Guam and then to Korat Royal Thai air force base, Thailand, where they joined the nation's 36 air defense fighters Aug. 17.

The total program is expected to cost $138 million, according to Hansen. Thailand will receive 16 F-16s plus two additional unassembled aircraft for spare parts.

"We're very excited about this program and these planes. Everything looks great and ready to go," said RTAF liaison officer Maj. Boonlerd Ratanasamlee. "They will join our two squadrons and will have more capabilities than the ones we currently have and longer range.

"We're very happy this work was done at Hill," he said. "We couldn't ask for better planes and we appreciate the quality of work that was put into them." (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)

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