In the early days of aviation, it was up to the pilots to watch for enemy aircraft and identify enemy ground forces. These days, electronic and communication systems, or avionics, assist pilots in identifying enemy targets and ground forces.
When the avionics on an F-15E Strike Eagle need to be repaired in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron's avionics flight is here to do the job.
The 379 EMXS avionics flight is comprised of 16 Airmen currently deployed from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. The flight works to ensure the F-15E Strike Eagles stationed at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, have functioning radar, flight surface controls and airborne communications systems or avionics -- instruments necessary for the aircrews to control and navigate aircraft, said Master Sgt. William Baron, 379 EMXS avionics flight chief.
Avionics are also line replaceable units, which are components of an aircraft that are designed to be replaced quickly on the flightline. LRUs speed up repair because they can be stocked and replaced quickly from inventory, returning the aircraft to mission capable status.
Because avionics are line replaceable, maintenance is considered an off equipment maintenance field, which means avionics personnel do not work directly on the aircraft, said Tech. Sgt. Kevin Jolly, 379 EMXS avionics production supervisor. It is for this reason that the avionics flight is able to work downrange where the F-15s are stationed. Bagram does not have the equipment nor does it have a large temperature-controlled building suitable for the avionics flight. Instead, faulty avionics parts and components are shipped from the forward operating base to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing and shipped back after they have been repaired.
The avionics shop includes three sections responsible for maintaining radar, display and navigation and electronic countermeasures systems.
"We perform intermediate and organizational maintenance activities. This includes troubleshooting, repairing, installing, aligning, modifying and conducting operational checkouts of instrument and flight control systems. We also diagnose malfunctions using and interpreting logic circuits, signal flow, component schematics, technical orders and diagrams," Jolly said. "Finally, we work to ensure that safety, quality and performance standards are followed and updated."
The maintenance activities on the avionics start when faulty parts are delivered to the avionics flight. Although some LRUs arrive with detailed descriptions of the equipment's problem, the majority of the items they receive are simply marked as inoperable, leaving it up to the flight to discover the problem, Jolly said.
The first step in determining the problem and fixing the faulty parts is the visual inspection, Baron said. The LRU is inspected for broken pins and panels and other problems that can be detected with the human eye. It is then run through the test station for a complete diagnostic test to validate the reported discrepancy or any other malfunctions that it may have. After the problem is identified, the faulty pieces are removed and replaced.
The amount of time it takes to fix each part varies, Jolly said. If the diagnostic computer doesn't find anything wrong it can take as little as 10 to 15 minutes to maintain, while other components may take hours depending on how complicated the testing progresses.
"The electronic systems test set tests LRUs for up to six hours," Baron said. "The broken components are then removed, replaced and retested for another six hours. The component[s] must have a completely perfect test before we can release it back to Bagram."
After Bagram receives the repaired parts, if they are not immediately needed, the LRUs are stored there for future use.
Besides repairing and returning avionics to Bagram, the flight's unique equipment has also allowed the team to support various maintenance issues here as well, Baron said. Recently, they repaired several electrical cable wiring harnesses for the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment flight's bomb loaders. These cables operate a remote control unit, which is used to load bombs onto the B-1B Lancer, and they built six of these cables between the months of September and November.
Helping other units on base as well as completing their primary mission of performing maintenance on all of Bagram's F-15E Strike Eagles' avionics is how the 379 EMXS avionics flight ensures that they are in the fight as well as ensuring the Strike Eagle's continued success throughout the AOR.