By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq (07/10/2008) - The roar of F-16 Fighting Falcons is more than just noise to the jet engine mechanics assigned to the 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Tiger Aircraft Maintenance Unit. To these Airmen, it's the sound of a job well done.
The Airmen who work in the Propulsion Shop ensure the jets' engines are in top operating condition, maintaining one of the U.S. Air Force's key capabilities: air superiority.
The Tiger AMU's jet engine mechanics inspect engine components daily for cracks, missing coating, normal wear and tear and anything else that could pose a problem. They also perform inspections and routine maintenance on the planes at regular intervals.
"After every flight the engines are downloaded," said Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Muldoon, propulsion element supervisor. "We process them in the computer to see if there are any faults; if there are we troubleshoot them."
The computer is a diagnostic machine similar to those used on car engines in auto shops.
The 14 mechanics of Tiger AMU, all deployed from the New York Air National Guard, inspect 12 aircraft engines daily. Each jet must be inspected to make sure it's always mission-ready. Such a task requires intense and specialized training.
"The technical school is 13 weeks, and after that there's at least one year of hands on training before [mechanics] are somewhat efficient," said Tech. Sgt. Mike Mullan, a jet engine mechanic assigned to the Tiger AMU. "[Students] actually take apart the motor that we use, the G10-100. They tear it down and rebuild it. The guys who have been coming out of tech school are very sharp. It's surprising some of the skills these guys have."
The training given at the school combined with the continuity and expertise of Guard members helps to make the Tiger AMU mechanics a balanced team.
"Being in the Guard, [some] people have been in the shop 20-plus years," Sergeant Muldoon said. "Some of the active-duty shops just don't have as much experience."
In part because of their training and experience, the mechanics from New York have encountered no major engine problems since arriving here in May. They take a proactive approach to prevention by controlling foreign object debris -- anything on a flightline from a rock to a piece of trash that could be sucked into a jet engine.
"We've heard that a lot of people have FOD issues," Sergeant Mullan said. "We haven't seen them here. We run a FOD boss 24 hours a day and do FOD walks." During a FOD walk, Airmen form a line and walk side-by-side to ensure runways are clear of debris.
Mechanics work long hours under harsh conditions, but there's more to the job than just turning wrenches.
"I don't think people realize how much technology and electronics are involved in the motors," Sergeant Muldoon said. "They relate it to a car, but they don't realize how many moving parts are in a jet engine -- how detailed it is. There's so much engineering and design with these motors."
"A lot of the time we don't see the end result of what the pilots are doing," Sergeant Muldoon said. "But if I know we did something that got the plane up in the air and saved a Soldier's life -- some 20-year-old kid -- that's what it's all about."