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A KC-135 crew from the 10th FLTS works closely with Air Logistics Center maintenance professionals during a pre-flight inspection on a jet fresh from the depot. Engine mechanic Matt Jennings, 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, looks over an area while pilots Maj. Kelly Buck, left, and Maj. John Cary test every aspect of the jet’s functions. The meticulous pre-flight may take up to three hours before the aircraft is tested in the air to ensure its air-worthiness.(Air Force photo by Margo Wright)
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Reserve unit at Tinker performs vital mission for aircraft maintenance

Posted 2/12/2009   Updated 2/12/2009 Email story   Print story


by Brandice J. Armstrong
72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

2/12/2009 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.,  -- The 10th Flight Test Squadron is a unique squadron within its own right.

Home to roughly 35 reserve Airmen and situated on the flight-line, separate from most other Tinker Air Force Base units, the 10th FLTS flies four different types of aircraft after they have undergone programmed depot maintenance at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center or received battle-damage repair.

"The unit is important because it provides a thorough flight check of the work done by the OC-ALC maintainers, ensuring that Team Tinker returns top-quality aircraft to the warfighters," said Lt. Col. Pete Jones, 10th FLTS commander.

The 10th FLTS belongs to the 413th Flight Test Group at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., which falls directly under the 22nd Air Force at Dobbins AFB, Ga. Day after day, Airmen assigned to a specific aircraft -- E-3 Sentry, B-1 Lancer, B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker -- perform hundreds of checks to ensure the aircraft is at 100 percent capability.

The checks are part of an aircraft's specific technical order. Because the aircraft fly different missions, the TOs vary. For example, a B-1 TO includes low-level and refueling checks, but a KC-135's TO does not because it is not part of the mission.

Checks begin at pre-flight. An aircrew at the home unit may spend 30 to 45 minutes on a pre-flight check, but a 10th FLTS aircrew will spend two to three hours on the check.

"We check as many items as possible on the ground before we ever get it airborne, including running the engines up to full power and testing some of the engine-failure systems," said Maj. Kelly Buck, 10th FLTS KC-135 instructor pilot. "Our maintenance people are professionals, but there are hundreds of people working on thousands of individual little parts to put an aircraft back together. Our job is to ensure all aircraft systems are returned to 100 percent working order."

Once in the air, a test flight usually takes at least three hours.

"We move just about every switch there is in an airplane, including all the emergency systems that, unless you're having a bad day in operational flying, you'd never move," the major said. "It's a very unique part of this job, actuating the switches that you'd never-ever touch in operational flying."

Major Buck said sometimes a 10th FLTS member will be sent to another destination to perform a test flight. On one occasion, a tanker that had deployed to an overseas location was damaged in a refueling accident. After temporary structural repairs were made, a 10th FLTS crew flew the aircraft to Tinker AFB with the air refueling boom completely removed. Upon landing, pilots will debrief maintenance officials with a lengthy, in-depth report. It is vital that 10th FLTS members know the inner-workings of their specific aircraft.

"There are a vast number of different types of problems. You have to have an extremely in-depth knowledge of systems on the airplane and how they're supposed to work," Major Buck said. "Our mission is to get these airplanes fixed and out of here." If more repairs are needed, the aircraft is returned to the shop. After the aircraft passes all the checks, crews from the home unit will retrieve the fixed aircraft.

The average aircraft undergoes two test-flights after spending approximately six months being refurbished.

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