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Avionics Airmen keep jets wired for flight

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- In the age of electronics and computers, it takes some specialists on the team to keep an A-10 in the air.

Troubleshooting everything from radar to flight control systems, avionics specialists are one such team that helps the 25th Fighter Squadron stay "Ready to Fight, and Win, Tonight!"

In order to become one of these specialists, Airmen must go through almost four months of technical training. Training begins at Keesler AFB, Miss., followed by a stint at Sheppard AFB, Texas.

"We go through electronic principles first - most specialists go through that course," said Staff Sgt. Cliff Eskew, 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit avionics specialist. "We follow up with aircraft specific training at Sheppard."

Sergeant Eskew's training, for example, allows him to work on A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, F-15 Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles and U-2s. The F-22 Raptor is being merged into the training as well.

Even though he must stay knowledgeable on all of those jets, he and other specialists sometimes stick with one jet for an extended period of time. When they have to move to another airframe, they are given some refresher training.

"I went to a field training detachment (before coming to Osan), so they didn't throw me blind to the wolves," said Sergeant Eskew, who had worked on F-15s at Tyndall AFB, Fla., for four years. "I got to see the A-10 and work on it."

That training allowed him to jump into working on the jet as soon as he got here. The work days consist mostly of troubleshooting, said Senior Airman Nathan Hensley.

"Our main job is troubleshooting systems," said Airman Hensley. "A problem might look one way initially, but usually there is more to it than that."

Troubleshooting was emphasized by a technical sergeant at Tyndall who trained both Airman Hensley and Sergeant Eskew.

"When we were first coming up, the sergeant made us get the general system book and learn how everything works, understand how the system works," said Sergeant Eskew. "He taught us to get to the core of the problem and do it the right way the first time."

Once the problem is found, they get to work making repairs, changing wires or parts. They also do on-the-line upgrades, running new wires or systems in the aircraft.

"You know something is wrong if you see feet dangling out of the cockpit," joked Airman Hensley.

Once they're done contorting themselves and making repairs, the avionics specialists run operations checks to make sure their repairs worked. If everything is as it should be, they call it good and get the jet back to the flightline.

Avionics specialists are important to keeping the Air Force flying, but they have no delusions that it takes one shop.

"There's healthy competition between the shops, but there's also camaraderie," said Airman Hensley. "During my first TDY, a jet fuel starter bottle blew - the jet wouldn't start. I had to use a breaker bar to pump it up to build pressure back up. It's hard to do. Two crew chiefs and a weapons guy came to help. We all came together to get the jet back in the air."

And keeping the jets ready to fight is integral to Osan's mission.

"The flightline as a whole, both literally and figuratively, is where the rubber meets the road," said Sergeant Eskew. "In fact, our commander, Maj. (Lyle) Drew has a saying: 'It's all about lethal iron.'"