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Mended Eagle: 402nd helps get crash-damaged F-15 back home

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFMCNS) -- An F-15 Eagle that sustained severe damage during a collision over the Sea of Japan last year will soon return to her nest thanks to the 402nd Maintenance Wing's F-15 Hospital Section at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

According to David Pryor, C-section deputy section chief, a team of 37 mechanics and technicians worked in two shifts to complete the extensive repairs needed to get the aircraft back to its home station.

More than 5,000 man-hours went into the repairs, which included replacing the skin and a major wire harness as well as other structural repairs like a new canopy, nose and right vertical stabilizer and ailerons.

The crew included electricians as well as sheetmetal, aircraft, hydraulics and avionics mechanics.

Danny Rountree, sheetmetal mechanic, said there were major structural repairs to be done and two civilians and one military mechanic worked to complete that process, which alone took nearly three months.

He said the hard work has paid off with a feeling of purpose.

"I really enjoy doing crash damage because it makes you feel like you're getting more involved, and you really are when you're getting an aircraft back to the force," he said.

From start to finish the process was a joint project that included both military and civilian personnel - an effort Jeff Owens, F-15 Weapon System Support Center deputy chief, called vital to its success.

"The real key to this effort was that we had civilians on the team from the start," he said. "They were in on the disassembly, crating and packing and maintaining records."

In a first-of-its-kind effort, a team of civilians accompanied the 653rd Combat Logistics Support Squadron on the recovery.

The team disassembled the aircraft removing both wings, both horizontal and vertical stabilizers and the canopy. They also ensured that all of the egress system's pyrotechnics were removed, boxed the avionics for shipping and placed larger items and the fuselage into fixtures to be later placed onto a C-5 for transport.

The aircraft arrived at Robins Feb. 20, and the repair process began March 4. The completion date was set for Oct. 20.

Mr. Pryor said that with the dedication and expertise of the mechanics working this aircraft they were able to produce it in a timely manner.

"For this type of repair it was above average repair time," he said. "One of the issues with crash damaged aircraft is the unexpected. You really don't know what you're getting into until you actually disassemble the damaged portion.

"You don't know if you'll have to manufacture parts or have a long lead time on ordering parts, but on this particular aircraft we were able to repair a lot of the parts we would've had to manufacture."

Once the structural repairs were complete the aircraft was built back up much like a program depot maintenance aircraft. The wings had to be put back on, the flight controls and avionics equipment were installed and the aircraft was prepared for operational checks. Then they performed all operational checks they'd perform during a regular PDM cycle.

Next the aircraft was checked for leaks and then taken to functional test where it was painted and prepped for its first functional check flight.

James Hobby, Functional Test supervisor said the initial flight was Oct. 14.

"The initial flight was a good flight for a crash damaged aircraft," he said. "It was a job well done by Robins."

After the last functional check flight the aircraft will be prepped to return to its home station and unit the 12th Fighter Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.