|Pilot Seeks 'Roadside' Assistance from Maintainers |
Pilot Seeks 'Roadside' Assistance from Maintainers
By Staff Sgt. Robert Zoellner, Operation Northern Watch Public Affairs.
Incirlik Air Base, Turkey -- April 19, 2001 (AFPN) -- The message came from the voice warning system telling the pilot he had low oil pressure -- not a good sign in an aircraft with one engine. That meant Capt. Michael Leach had to put his F-16 Fighting Falcon down on the nearest suitable landing strip.
"First thing I thought was, 'It's a false indication. It can't be happening to me,'" said Leach, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot deployed here from the 77th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. He was flying a mission for Operation Northern Watch, which monitors Iraq's compliance with its northern no-fly zone.
Leach found a place to land, but there was not an F-16 mechanic for miles around so he called back to Incirlik AB to explain the problem to his maintainers. Master Sgt. Dwight Pauley, a flight chief with the 77th Fighter Squadron, took the call and determined the leak was too severe to allow the F-16 to return home without help.
Pauley relayed information on the problem to one of his jet-engine mechanics, Staff Sgt. Rene Zuniga. Using his 13 years of experience with engines, Zuniga diagnosed the problem immediately.
A line that uses oil pressure to open and close the engine-exhaust nozzles had ruptured.
"It was just a 12-inch stainless steel tube," Zuniga said. But that small tube carries 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Zuniga was able to acquire a tube from a spare engine. Joined by flight chief Pauley and dedicated crew chief Staff Sgt. Terry Taylor, he boarded a waiting C-12 Huron aircraft and headed to the disabled fighter.
The three-man crew replaced the hose, started and checked the engine, packed their tools and got back on the C-12 in 30 minutes. Not long after that, the F-16 and the maintenance crew were back in the air and heading for home. To the maintainers it was routine business: bring home their bird.
"It's what we're here for," Pauley said. (Courtesy of Air Combat Command News Service)