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That's so Metal; Corrosion Wraps Fourth and Final Flash

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gabrielle Spalding
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Mask up, sand, wipe, prime, top-coat, mask off, measure, stencil, mask up, paint, cure. Repeat. Four times. Four jets. In between non-stop operations over the course of 12 months.

As of Jan. 24, the Airmen of the 8th Maintenance Squadron’s Aircraft Structural Maintenance (ASM) Corrosion Control shop completed their project to paint the four F-16 Fighting Falcon heritage tail flashes of the 8th Fighter Wing. One representing the 80th and 35th Fighter Squadrons, one for the 8th Operations Group, and one for the 8th FW flagship.

“Tail flashes are [part of the] unit pride and heritage all across the Air Force,” explained Shaun Chauta, 8th MXS director of operations. “It helps the maintainers, who repair these aircraft, as well as the pilots who fly them, connect with their heritage and show pride in their unit. It’s a way to link our current aircraft to previous generations of aircraft, pilots, and warfighters.”

However, painting F-16s isn’t all about looks.

Just like cars, jets are subject to a multitude of corrosive situations, like rain and wind, which impact the exterior each time they conduct a sortie. The ASM shop uses different materials and tools to make the necessary repairs to help keep the jet free from corrosion and ready to brave the elements.

“If the corrosion shop wasn’t around, then our jets wouldn’t last as long as they do,” said Senior Airman Scott Bradshaw, 8th MXS corrosion technician. “We’re extending the lifespan of our jets for a long time. If we keep the corrosion away, the jet should be fine.”

These efforts not only keep the F-16 fleet ready, but allow for a chance to uphold the heritage the Wolf Pack is so proud of, said Lamb.

“Starting this project was a challenge. We had to basically create [each tail flash] from scratch,” Bradshaw said. “We referenced images, but due to the dimensions, we had to create and design the art specifically for the tail of an F-16.”

Once they came to a decision on the final design, they created stencils using different graphic design programs. These are usually designed and printed prior to painting to speed up the process.

“If we are making a new design, we will work on it for about a week or so,” Lamb explained. “Depending on the complexity, it can take longer.”

An old parachute, plastic, paper and tape were used to mask the parts of the aircraft that weren't being painted.

The unmasked sections were then sanded down utilizing a pneumatic sander with fine sandpaper. After sanding, Airmen wiped the metal with isopropyl alcohol, in what is called a “wipe test,” according to Bradshaw. Which cleans the surface of any particles that would prevent the primer and paint from adhering to the metal.

Finally, it was time to place stencils, mask-off the final design, and get the jet ready to paint. It may sound easy, but the process is tedious and requires an entire team to accomplish effectively.

“It takes about eight hours to apply stencils just to one side of this aircraft, and that’s with three people working on each side the whole time,” Bradshaw said.

The tail and ventral fins were sprayed with four layers of black semi-gloss paint and one layer of red paint. After about two hours, the stencils and masking were removed. Bradshaw explained de-masking the plane is only done when the paint has dried to a certain point to keep it from either running down or peeling off when the mask and stencils are removed.

During each step, the Airmen were protected from any hazardous material or chemicals by wearing a variety of Personal Protective Equipment.

“When we are sanding or spraying, we wear bunny suits, respirators, and gloves,” Bradshaw explained. “Then we tape around the gloves and respirator to mitigate any exposure to the paint chemicals or sanding particles.”

The coats of paint, shaping sunbursts or unit symbology, and the protection it provides from wear and tear are a fusion of aesthetics and functionality.

Peeling back the layers of the heritage-paint and corrosion-control process, it becomes clear how the Aircraft Structural Maintenance team contributes to the Wolf Pack’s mission and heritage.

“The Wolf Pack has a distinguished history, and the effort the Corrosion Control
team has put into designing and applying these tail flashes is our way of acknowledging the immense sacrifices of the pilots and maintainers who came before us,” Lamb said. “This has been an exciting opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, while providing a striking reminder to everyone who sees them that we have a strong tradition.

“I’m honored to say I had a part in preserving our heritage!