The first operational unit to field F-16C/D fighters marched through the conversion in style. While changing over to the new aircraft, the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hahn AB, Germany, also held its fully mission-capable rate at an amazing 86.9 percent.
In recognition of that achievement—and a substantial list of others—AFA presented its 1987 Gerrity Award for Logistics Management to Col. Reginald E. Pasieczny, 50th TFW Deputy Commander for Maintenance at the time of the conversion. He accepted on behalf of 1,700 maintenance people at Hahn who, in 1986, demonstrated just how good a combat support team can be. During that period, the Hahn maintenance complex also:
•Hosted the beddown and activation of a ground-launched cruise missile wing.
• Finished first in the USAFE Loadeo competition.
• Supported a monthly utilization rate of 16.3 sorties per aircraft.
• Had zero chargeable foreign-object damage (FOD) to engines—indicating an exceptionally clean ramp, since the F-16’s engine inlet is only three feet off the ground.
• Built several two-story mission facilities-with 50,000 man-hours of self-help labor, much of the construction being done on weekends.
In addition to AFA’s Gerrity Award, the wing also received the 1986 USAF Maintenance Award from the Daedalians and the 1987 Phoenix Award, which goes to the best maintenance organization in the Department of Defense.
“The spirit at Hahn is electric,” says Colonel Pasieczny, who has since been reassigned to USAFE headquarters as Assistant Director of Logistics. When the Air Force ran short of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) money in 1986, it called for volunteers willing to extend their overseas tours. Almost nowhere did this appeal meet with a better response than at Hahn, whose maintenance people are forty percent of the base population.
Pride in the way Hahn performs its mission makes up for other considerations, Colonel Pasieczny says, including “the fact that it isn’t the prettiest place in the world, to put it mildly.” The buildings are old, and the combination of fog, rain, and snow makes it “like living in one big cloud” during the winter, he says.
The base sits atop a plateau in the Hunsruck Mountain area and generally gets the worst of the weather. The 50th TFW keeps one of its three fighter squadrons on deployment at either Zaragoza, Spain, or Incirlik, Turkey, from October until March so that the aircrews can train under more favorable conditions. Harsh weather made the Hahn conversion in 1986 additionally demanding.
Raising the Standards
In 1985, the standard fully mission-capable rate for fighter wings in Europe was eighty percent. That was considered pretty good at the time. To achieve a rate of 86.9 percent during the conversion, Hahn had to skillfully balance the transfer of its F-16AIBs to the Air National Guard with the acceptance of F- 16C fighters and D-model trainers to replace them.
(The current USAFE standard is eighty-five percent—and the 50th TFW closed out FY ’87 at 91.4 percent.)
For the smoothest possible exchange, Air Guard delegations from Texas, Montana, Florida, and Arizona came to Germany for side-by-side inspection of the aircraft with Hahn’s maintenance people. Problems were fixed, to the satisfaction of the gaining Guard units, on the spot.
The first F-16C/Ds arrived at Hahn in late 1985. The job that followed was no simple matter of taking delivery of seventy-two new airplanes and checking them out. Technicians had to be trained on the intricacies of the heavier, stronger, electronics-intensive F- 1 6C. Colonel Pasieczny formed a “Ready Team” to plan the training schedule, support provisions, distribution of technical data, and readjustment of stock levels. The planning must have been good, for subsequent events did not deviate from it that much.
Along with the aircraft came two sets of Avionics Intermediate Shop (AIS) equipment. One of these, Set Fifty-Two, became the first full-up F-16C-capable AIS in the Air Force. And when the 86th TFW at Ramstein began converting from F-4Es to F-16C/Ds, Hahn helped with training and other support, including intermediate-level engine maintenance.
Meanwhile, the 50th TFW maintained its regular commitment to NATO for operationally ready fighters in air superiority, conventional attack, and strike configurations. Few Air Force wings are tasked for all three of these missions.
A unit is usually off the inspection roster during a major aircraft conversion, but Hahn wanted no such exemption. Consequently, a NATO tactical evaluation team swooped down in August 1986, instigated a no-notice recall of the troops, and took notes as the 50th TFW proceeded to load out the fleet, four AIM-9 Sidewinders per aircraft, for the air-to-air mission that would likely be the first requirement in wartime.
Ground attack and strike phases of the inspection came later, and the wing got some time to prepare for them. Colonel Pasieczny’s well-drilled loaders had the aircraft ready to go in well under the required times, and for the strike exercise, they worked under alarm Red and Black conditions in full chemical-warfare ensemble.
The camouflage at Hahn prompted the inspectors to characterize it as “the best American base we have ever seen.”
During the inspection, the maintenance complex kept the wing’s F-16s fully mission-capable ninety-six percent of the time.
Loading and Building
Hahn’s weapons loading and combat ammunition production teams again demonstrated their competence in the annual command Loadeo at Sembach AB. This competition requires each unit to put its weapon system through an integrated combat turn.
The aircraft lands, taxis in, and shuts down in front of the hardened shelter, and the ground crew then attacks it. Designated technicians swarm the airplane to begin work while others are pushing it into the shelter. Inside, they load the gun, check the tires, fill the fuel tanks, run their integrated checklist, and turn the aircraft for its next sortie. For the Hahn team at the 1986 competition, this included loading the aircraft with six 500-pound bombs, two AIM-9 missiles, and a full ration of 20-mm ammunition.
The 50th TFW won the Loadeo with an error-free combat turn in eighteen minutes, seven seconds. A new aircraft mover—a sort of motorized superdolly—that Hahn was testing worked so well in stuffing the aircraft into the shelter that the Air Force is now buying seventy-five of them for use by all F-16 units in Europe.
When Colonel Pasieczny and his maintenance force set out to improve their work areas at Hahn, they tackled the job with characteristic determination. Their plans were so bold that the base civil engineer hesitated before approving them.
Altogether, they undertook thirty-five self-help projects in 1986. The most ambitious of these involved major construction for an aerospace ground-equipment building and two hardened aircraft maintenance facilities, each consisting of more than 3,000 square feet. A visiting team from Seventeenth Air Force said the scope of these projects in the Hahn maintenance complex is unmatched at any other base previously seen. The Air Force estimates that labor costs for these improvements would have been $1.5 million had the work been done on commercial contract.
Typical of their smaller-scale renovations, the maintenance troops stripped and sandblasted the interiors of their dingy Tab Vee shelters—smoked up by the F-4 fighters housed in them for years in the past—and painted them white, thereby improving the visibility as well as the ambience.
The training program, like almost everything else in the complex, packs a little something extra. Colonel Pasieczny started a week-long course for crew chiefs, with emphasis on helping them understand how the entire maintenance and flying operation works.
“We took them to the command post, the tower, and to shops they’d never get to,” he says. “Normally, a guy comes in to his own area, works hard all day, and goes back home. He never has the time or the inclination to see the rest of the base. In this course, we kind of embellished his experience. He begins to understand that everyone on base either directly or indirectly is here to help him generate each and every sortie.” The crew chief program was so popular and effective that the wing established a similar course for technicians.
Colonel Pasieczny subscribes enthusiastically to the “combat-oriented” approach to maintenance, in which functions are decentralized to the extent possible, with support people identified closely with—”dedicated” to, in flight-line parlance—specific aircraft. At Hahn, the name of the dedicated crew chief is painted on the canopy rail of the airplane and on the aircraft shelter. Crew chiefs accompany their aircraft to the wash rack, the phase dock, and anywhere else it is going for scheduled maintenance.
Taking the concept one step further, Hahn also has dedicated technicians. Every member of the aircraft generation squadron is identified with a particular airplane. When dedicated technicians find themselves with a few minutes to spare, they go to their aircraft and see what they can do to help. Their names, along with that of the dedicated crew chief, show in the records folder for the aircraft.
Each day, the flags of the aircraft maintenance units (AMUs) fly over the maintenance complex, with that of the AMU achieving the best fully mission-capable rate, scheduling effectiveness, and sortie production the previous day flying on top. In 1986, that place of honor often went to the 496th AMU, the first to be fully equipped with the F-16C/D and which posted a mission-capable rate of 94.7 percent through the entire conversion.
“One of the things we pushed at Hahn was to treat airplanes like flying machines, not trucks,” Colonel Pasieczny says. When crew chiefs and technicians feel that an aircraft is theirs—as they do when things are on a “dedicated” basis—they don’t handle it roughly, and they see that others don’t either.
Decentralization of the Hahn maintenance complex has put more of the working troops on the line, closer to their F-16s and the fighter squadrons than ever before. In FY ’86, engine technicians moved to the AMUs and were soon followed by the weapons loaders and people from five specialty shops. In return, the AMUs have shown that given responsibility and resources, they can be counted on to deliver results.
“We didn’t invent a lot of things at Hahn,” Colonel Pasieczny says. “Most of it was tried and true ideas. We just said, ‘Let’s do it’—and we made it work.”