By Senior Airman C. Todd Lopez
INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey (Nov. 23, 2001) -- A handful of airmen wait in a government vehicle near the end of the runway here. As two F-16 aircraft taxi towards the arming area, the crew moves out to meet them.
The crewchief martials the first plane into position and then stops it. Crewmembers put chocks under the tires, and the tires are inspected for any apparent damage. Then the chocks are removed, the plane is moved forward, rechocked, and the tires are rechecked.
The procedure is just the first part of a routine repeated by other crews, on other Air Force fighter aircraft, at the same time. The apparent redundancy is not really redundant at all. It's just part of the thoroughness exhibited by the end of runway crews here. Staff Sgt. John Yarbrough, crew chief, 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, explained.
"When stopped, the plane has one portion of tire touching the pavement. The only way to check that [portion] is to have the jet roll forward," said Yarbrough.
Yarbrough is part of a team of weapons troops and crewchiefs from the various fighter units deployed to Operation Northern Watch. These aircraft specialists are part of the end of runway crew. Their job is to arm an aircraft's weapons systems and perform final aircraft checks before the aircraft launches.
Once an aircraft is chocked, the crewchief and an assistant do final checks on the aircraft. They make sure all the aircraft body panels are closed, they check fluid levels and they check for fluid leaks under the aircraft.
At the same time the aircraft is being looked over, weapons crews are arming the aircraft's weapons systems. This is similar to taking the safety off a rifle.
"Basically, we pull pins and make sure the missiles are set to 'arm,'" said Staff Sgt. Larry Clyburn, weapons technician, 555th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy. "There are some keys that must be turned, but that's about it."
In addition to arming the weapons, the crew ensures missiles and bombs are firmly attached to the aircraft.
"We look to ensure everything is properly loaded and safe. That means we check if the weapons are loaded properly and locked on the aircraft. You can shake them a little to check, but there are certain checks for each missile," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Dulac, weapons technician, 67th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Senior Airman Jedidiah Marrs, a weapons technician with the 14th EFS, explained how he and his partner ensure they don't miss anything on the aircraft as they prepare it for launch.
"I'll start on one side, and he'll start on the other. Then we cross over and cross check each other. If I say my side is good, but I have missed something, he can catch it, and vice-versa," said Marrs.
The EOR area can be busy prior to an ONW mission. Some half-dozen aircraft with accompanying ground crews, from multiple squadrons, multiple services and even multiple countries, can be lined up waiting to be armed. In spite of the apparent confusion, the crews know how to make sense of it all.
"We have a game plan," said Clyburn, "and we know how many aircraft will come through. We also know the routine because we've been here almost 90 days."
Cooperation between the units helps make things smooth as well.
"When these guys get out there, they work as a team. With the different fighter squadrons and different services represented, there are rivalries," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Becker, quality assurance, 555th EFS. "But during launches and recoveries, that is put aside. They know there is no time to be messing around out there."
After a final check and after weapons systems are armed, aircraft are released by their EOR ground crew to the tower's control. EOR is more than just another mark on a checklist for aircraft before flight though.
"I think the EOR crews really downplay what it is they do," said Chief Master Sgt. Les Brown, Barksdale Air Force Base, La. Brown is the EOR program manager for ONW. "There are a lot of critical tasks that have to be completed on an aircraft before it can fly. EOR is the last critical task that must be completed, and that is important."