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NEWS | March 15, 2024

Colorado Air National Guard Maintenance Group creates innovative solution to aging F-16

By Staff Sgt. Luccario Lovato, 140th Wing Public Affairs

Colorado Air National Guard maintainers of the 140th Maintenance Group have cared for the 140th Wing’s fleet of F-16 Falcons and now Vipers for the last 30 years.

As the airframe has aged, its required these airmen to incorporate new and innovative maintenance practices to remain at the forefront of discovering new means of increasing airpower efficiency to ensure the fighter jets remain mission capable and ready to defend the nation 24/7.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Danielle M. Morgan and Tech. Sgt. Taylar M. Reilly, led one of these new practices as they repaired canopy sill longerons. The CSLs run the full length of the cockpit and support the structure between the frame and skin of the aircraft, preventing tension and bending of the fuselage.

“The aircraft is immediately grounded when the canopies crack,” Reilly said. “A crack can spread, and if both sides break, the whole nose could fall off.”

Canopy sill longeron cracking has already appeared in 90 aircraft across the U.S. Air Force inventory of F-16s within the past year.

The F-16 can fly at twice the speed of sound, pulling up to 9-G turns (9 times the earth’s gravitational force) to accomplish air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, applying significant strain to an aging aircraft. While structural concerns are not new, structural maintenance is usually done at a depot facility.

“While this isn’t the first time we’ve done this specific task, this is the first time that we’ve had two aircraft with this issue at the same time,” Reilly said.

Reilly also explained that the structural integrity of the longeron is getting worse, and suspects it’ll become a fleet-wide issue. 

It is up to 140th Wing maintainers to complete the repairs.  According to the guidance Reilly has received, the depot has an overwhelming workload and is unable to complete these repairs in a timely manner. In addition, other units may not have the in-depth expertise needed for aircraft-specific repairs like this. National Guard members, on the other hand, typically remain in the same career and unit for an extended period, which adds a level of expertise in aircraft-specific maintenance practices.

Reilly, Morgan, and their team have over 20 years of combined experience with aircraft structural maintenance, and together they’ve worked as a team with F-16 Special Program Office engineers on developing and implementing more efficient means of repairing the aircraft.

“Working alongside the same engineers has enabled long-lasting relationships that are essential to this type of maintenance,” Reilly said.

“Success of the 140th Maintenance Squadron relies heavily on innovation by the women and men of this organization, evident by the remarkable work we have done with CSLs,” U.S. Air Force Maj. Justin Clouser, commander, 140th Maintenance Squadron said. “Without innovation and effective problem-solving skills, we’d be expected to fix modern day issues with outdated maintenance practices and equipment, which is anything but efficient.”

As the 140th continues to maximize the maintenance accomplished on the F-16s, Reilly and Morgan have led the way for new and innovative maintenance practices in the 140th Structural Maintenance Shop, displaying expertise that only seasoned careers on the same airframe could produce. Until the USAF assigns a newer aircraft to the 140th, the maintenance squadron continues to develop new and innovative ways to keep the F-16s airborne and ready to enter the war fight at a moment’s notice.

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