Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 4, 2017.- Northern Edge 2017 training activities would not be complete without fighter pilots and their planes — and takeoffs would not be complete without the dozens of behind-the-scenes logisticians and maintainers who keep these birds topped up on fuel and ammunition and in good working order for their next evolution.
The Air Force’s F-15C Eagle is one of many aircraft being used during the exercise to help train and prepare units for joint interoperability. First flown in 1972, the aircraft has been in service since 1976 and trains next to fifth-generation fighter jets, such as the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.
Keeping the older F-15s in tip-top shape is no easy job. And, that job is the responsibility of the maintainers of the 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit from Kadena Air Base, Japan, who work around the clock during multiple daily shifts to keep the 12 F-15C Eagles in top working order, explained Air Force 1st Lt. Joel Sanchez, the 67th’s officer in charge.
“I love the F-15. I think it’s the best fighter we have out here. We’ve got C models; they can do your air-to-air attack. I’ve also worked on E models, where you get your ground strike capabilities,” said Air Force Senior Airman Mitchell Donovan, 67th AMU crew chief. “It’s a great jet to work on. They’ve been in service a long time, so we have a lot of guys who know a lot of information about the jet.”
Sanchez explained that maintenance cycles are a huge part of his work at Northern Edge. With a 400-hour phase cycle in place — the amount of time that can pass between maintenance that grounds the aircraft for a short period of time — and nearly three hours per sortie flown during the exercise, the selection process of the 12 aircraft the unit brought was crucial. Donovan explained that getting the Eagles operational and into the sky on a routine day can be complicated and takes a lot of coordination.
“First thing we do in the morning, we come out and check the spot, make sure there are no leaks, no fasteners missing, just general health of the airplane stuff,” Donovan said. “Then, the pilot comes out to do a walk-around inspection and make sure the jet is up to their standards.”
Checking the Jets
After completing the initial preflight checks, the crew chief has to wait for weapons specialists to make their way down the line and arm the aircraft.
“[Weapons specialists] come by and essentially do an end-of-runway inspection,” Donovan said. “They come by and pull out all the safety pins to get the jet armed up. It’s a really good feeling to watch them get off the ground and know, ‘I did that, I made that happen. It’s one of the best feelings in the world.”