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Falcon Phase In

Airman 1st Class James Ballard, 332d Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, studies the technical orders of an F-16. The phase teams work around the clock to get two squadrons of F-16s inspected and flying in three days on average. (U.S. Air Force photo/SrA Kerry Solan-Johnson)

Airman 1st Class James Ballard, 332d Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, studies the technical orders of an F-16. The phase teams work around the clock to get two squadrons of F-16s inspected and flying in three days on average. (U.S. Air Force photo/SrA Kerry Solan-Johnson)

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- The Airmen of the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron's Viper phase team know that beauty is only skin deep, so when they get an F-16 to inspect they look deep underneath the skin to find the ugly problems.

Every 400 flying hours, the maintenance squadron's Viper phase team takes apart the F-16s of the 421st Fighter Squadron and puts them back together through a set of intense and rigorous inspections. The 421st and the Viper phase team are deployed here from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

"It's more than the routine maintenance you would do on your car," said Master Sgt. John Lowery, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 332d EMXS Viper phase dock. "What we do is more like taking the entire car apart, inspecting every part for damage, and then putting it all back together."

The phase team divides the aircraft into five zones: top, bottom, nose and cockpit, landing gear, and wings. The teams attack the jet at the same time to get the aircraft back into combat as quickly as possible.

Before any work or inspections can be done, the panels on the skin of the aircraft must first be removed - a job that would take the phase team at least 12 hours if done alone.
According to Capt. David Frush, 332d EMXG operations officer, the phase dock works closely with other maintenance units and the Air National Guard's Tiger phase dock to accomplish some routine and time-consuming tasks.

"When it comes time to depanel the jet, the phase team gets help from all the back shops, the Tiger (Guard) phase dock and basically anyone who is qualified to remove a panel."

Once the panels are off, the team inspects the inner components, looking for signs of wear, stress or corrosion.

A normal phase inspection averages five days at home station, but here Airmen work 12-hour shifts to complete the phase inspections in about three days. The three-day inspection cycle means more aircraft are available for combat operations

"These are the same jets we fix at home," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Pazos, viper phase dock crew chief.

"It's a combat zone," Captain Frush said. "The pilots are flying the aircraft much more here and that increases the maintenance and inspection needs."

The two F-16 squadrons fly more than 6,000 hours every two months. This is six-times more than a similar state side unit flies.

"A bad day for us is not getting the parts we need or not getting the aircraft out of phase dock in less than three days," Sergeant. Pazos said. "The pilots are waiting on us to get airborne again. We work as hard as we can to get a quality product turned back over to the pilots as efficiently as possible.

"It might seem like a good day is taking the jet apart, finding nothing wrong and putting it back together again, but it's not. Our job is to find the cracks and damage," Sergeant Pazos said. "If we don't find something we look harder. So a good day is finding damage, having the parts to fix it and hearing it take off on a mission a few days later."