Every Airman Plays a Role

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. AJ Larose
  • 344th Air Refueling Squadron
A small piece of a rotor from the high pressure compressor in an F-16 Fighting Falcon jet engine has a crack. It eventually breaks from fatigue with aircraft and pilot in flight. This small piece could have potentially departed the jet without further damage - but not today. The cracked rotor piece severs a fuel line, causing fuel to leak. The introduction of fuel causes an uncontrollable fire in the engine section, the pilot safely ejects, but the aircraft is destroyed. I had the opportunity to see this engine and the cracked rotor while touring the Jet Engine Mishap Investigation Course at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

One small piece of one small part of the engine fails, and the result is total disaster. When something goes wrong with our mission, we trace it back to what went wrong. In most cases, we can track it down to some small part; whether in preparation, communication, maintenance, or operations, some small error, led to this mission failure.

Rarely do we take the chance to reflect on all of those missions that go right. And rarely do we think about all of the small parts - in preparation, communication, maintenance, operations and every other piece that McConnell Airmen get right to make the mission happen everyday.

Different jet, different day. A KC-135R Stratotanker launches from McConnell Air Force Base, delivers 60,000 lbs of fuel to three B-2 Spirit bombers and recovers back to home station for one hour of additional pattern training. Mission success. No investigation. But let's consider what it took to make that mission happen.

The mission had to be scheduled and coordinated. The flight crew had to be mission ready. Aircrew flight equipment, survival, and flight training had to be accomplished, currencies had to be checked and flight orders had to be published.

The maintainers responsible for the aircraft had to be trained and current as well. The mission had to be planned and the aircraft generated. The flight crew needed intel, weather, crew communications, and transportation support. When a problem is discovered with the aircraft, the maintenance pro-supervisor and the specialists spring into action, but the mission is delayed. Command Post coordinates with the receiver to establish a new rendezvous time. Tower controllers work with air traffic control to keep a flight plan open. The jet is fixed, the mission launches. Three B-2 crews receive their refuel training and their fuel for additional training. A KC-135 co-pilot becomes mission ready. An instructor pilot and a boom operator receive valuable and required proficiency.

Mission Success. I was the Instructor Pilot - I called it my mission. But the fact is, it was our mission - every Airman at McConnell. And that mission - that fact - is repeated several times a day, every day. We all play a role. Just like the engine, any small problem can lead to mission failure. But likewise, all of those parts, and all of our Airmen, are critical to our mission success.