By Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith, 40 AEG Public Affairs
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM – Each day, B-1B Lancers from the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron (working from the 40th Air Expeditionary Group) conduct long hours of in-theater air coverage in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In a recent one-week period, B-1s provided close air support to Coalition forces in contact with enemy forces more than 21 times. During the same period, B-1s also destroyed various Taliban extremists’ compounds with precision weapons. The current weapons tempo, the heaviest since the beginning of OEF in 2001, wouldn’t be possible without the behind-the-scenes Airmen who work to get loaded B-1s off the ground.
This is part two of a three-part feature highlighting the often overlooked ground efforts to get the bombs on target.
Pilots and weapons systems officers flying B-1B Lancers during Operation Enduring Freedom combat missions need to have a solid airplane to provide cover for Coalition ground forces.
Long before a B-1 mission launches from the 40th Air Expeditionary Group, avionics and mechanical maintainers from the 40th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron are putting in long hours to make the flights possible.
There are three primary Air Force specialties for avionics and three for mechanical B-1 maintenance. The avionics specialties are instrument flight control systems, defensive avionics systems and offensive avionics systems. The mechanical specialties are pneudraulic systems, jet shop propulsion systems and electrical and environmental systems.
Master Sgt. Rich Bryan, 40 EMXS B-1 Specialists flight chief, said all six specialties play a critical role in the success of the B-1 mission.
“Each shop has a unique function, but it takes every one to get the job done,” said Sergeant Bryan. “It’s like meshing of gears taking place that makes us one big team. When we all do our parts, the planes get airborne.”
Senior Airman Benjamin Wolfe, 40 EMXS Electrical and Environmental Systems specialist, does a job that is considered mechanical, though aspects of it seem almost scientific in nature. One of the thousands of B-1 components Airman Wolfe is responsible for is the Molecular Sieve Oxygen Generating System.
“We take the engine air that is about 700-900 degrees and use it to cool or heat a wide variety of components that should ideally be between 70 and 80 degrees,” said Airman Wolfe. “For example, MSOGS uses six canisters of zeolytic crystals to filter out everything, especially nitrogen, that comes from the air that isn’t oxygen into aviator’s oxygen. Aviator’s oxygen is usually about 90 percent oxygen.”
Airman Wolfe can easily describe how the systems he works on take hot air and rapidly expand it so that it cools to a level below freezing. At this point, some of the heated air can be routed back through the cold air to control it at a usable temperature. He said his technical training, Career Development Course manuals and coworkers have given him the knowledge he needs to play an important role in the war on terrorism.
“We can definitely see how we’re important,” said Airman Wolfe. “We work on a broad range of critical components that are required for the B-1 to fly. Working here (combat environment) makes you feel like you haven’t felt before. When a jet comes back with an empty weapons bay, you have a sense of accomplishment.”
Airman 1st Class Simon Montandon, 40 EMXS Communications Navigation Mission Systems apprentice, works in the avionics side of the maintenance specialty shops. His primary job is to keep the radar system working so the B-1 crews can be a part of the fight.
“If the crew can’t communicate with the ground or navigate where they’re at, they can’t drop the bombs,” said Airman Montandon.
A typical day for Airman Montandon involves briefings from the night shift workers followed by a Foreign Object Damage prevention walk on the flightline. Next, he will sign out the tools he needs to work on his tasks for the day. When an aircraft comes back from a mission, Airman Montandon attends the debriefing to hear first-hand from the aircrews what went right or wrong during the flight. Then it’s right back to the flightline to finish his jobs and start new ones based on the information he gathered at the debrief.
The extra stress of real world combat missions is a motivator for Airman Montandon on this, his first deployment. He said unlike the training missions he works at home, here he is using all of his training toward a mission that absolutely has to fly.
Sergeant Bryan said maintainers like Airmen Montandon and Wolfe know that the lives of the crews are in their hands, so they take a great deal of pride in getting the job done right every time.
“When you’re signing your name that you fixed the aircraft, you’re telling the crew that airplane is safe to fly,” said Sergeant Bryan. “The crew sees the write up is cleared, and they have faith that the job is done.”
“As a specialist, the job demands a lot of you all the time,” continued Sergeant Bryan. “There’s no greater feeling for these maintainers when they watch the B-1s take off and perform, and know they played a big part in making it happen.”
See also: parts one and three.