EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
It takes a lot more than just a single pilot to get one of the 173rd Fighter Wing’s F-15 Eagles in the air. Behind the scenes, an entire team of people from diverse backgrounds work together to accomplish the mission of getting one man in the air.
U.S. Air Force Major Richard Schuster, TDY maintenance officer, flew with the 173rd Fighter Wing to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, from May 1-15, 2021, to help support the Kingsley Eagles flying Adversary Air missions against the F-35A Lightning II B-Course students.
He was in charge of managing the crowd of Airmen required to keep the jets running for their mission. “Five aircraft are going to require about 75 people to generate those sorties, and that’s what they do.”
It might seem like a lot of people, but Schuster described how every part of the jet is maintained by Airmen from highly specialized career fields: “It’s everything from electrical, avionics systems, hydraulics, to engines,” said Schuster.
“Generally it takes about 15-16 people to generate that one aircraft,” he continued. “That’s loosely the calculation we make to bring support.”
For this trip, the 173rd Fighter Wing chose sent nearly ninety people for five jets, and even that meant that Airmen had to fill multiple roles sometimes.
“Our avionics folks on this TDY are having to help launch aircraft, because we don’t have enough flight line folks,” said Schuster. He went on to say that the flexibility defined the Airmen on this trip.
“Quite honestly the teams are reactionary,” he added. “They’ve got to inspect to make sure the systems are working properly, but then adapt to whatever the pilots find are wrong with the aircraft.”
Another challenge that the maintainers faced was the need to adapt to a constantly changing schedule, something rarely seen at Kingsley Field. In Klamath Falls, the 173rd Fighter Wing has nearly exclusive use of a few Military Operating Areas, a designated section of airspace reserved for military training activities.
In Florida, the MOAs are used by several wings spread across multiple air base, so the schedule is much tighter and subject to change. Sometimes launches would be scrubbed due to weather, and other times people were showing up at four-thirty in the morning to get the jets out early.
“We get the flight schedule the night before, usually around eight-thirty, and then we had to adapt from there,” explained Schuster, saying that the flexibility demonstrated by the maintainers proved their effectiveness while away from home.
He also described additional challenges on the road. Because the parts supply is not the same as is is at the home station, there’s a lot of extra communication needed, he said.
Schuster said he was impressed by how the Kingsley Airmen worked together to ensure that the mission always was accomplished, saying, “Those are really good experiences for these folks to have.”