Featured Links

Low observable technicians keep pilots undetected, alive

Maintainers with the 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., check for structural damages on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 27, 2017. If damages are found, low observable aircraft structure technicians must repair them to ensure the aircraft maintains its stealth capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Maintainers with the 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., check for structural damages on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 27, 2017. If damages are found, low observable aircraft structure technicians must repair them to ensure the aircraft maintains its stealth capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, picks at radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. The absorbent material aids in the Raptor’s low observability, a factor that makes it a stealth fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, picks at radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. The absorbent material aids in the Raptor’s low observability, a factor that makes it a stealth fighter aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, removes radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. Pilot’s missions at Red Flag depend on LO enabled partly by the radar absorbent material. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, removes radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. Pilot’s missions at Red Flag depend on LO enabled partly by the radar absorbent material. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

A maintainer with the 388th Fighter Wing out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, checks for structural damages on an F-35A Lightning II during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 25, 2017. For most non-structural and all structural repairs, low observable aircraft structure technicians must either fix the paneling damage or remove paneling for maintainers to repair other issues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

A maintainer with the 388th Fighter Wing out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, checks for structural damages on an F-35A Lightning II during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Jan. 25, 2017. For most non-structural and all structural repairs, low observable aircraft structure technicians must either fix the paneling damage or remove paneling for maintainers to repair other issues. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, reviews structural work on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. LO aircraft structures technicians repair radar absorbent materials and panels that aid in the aircraft’s stealth capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, reviews structural work on an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. LO aircraft structures technicians repair radar absorbent materials and panels that aid in the aircraft’s stealth capability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, hammers radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. The material was covering a light panel that will later be fixed by  27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Dunn, 192nd Fighter Wing low observable aircraft structures technician, hammers radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. The material was covering a light panel that will later be fixed by 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit maintainers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Pieces of radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor fall to the floor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. The material was hammered away to allow for repairs to a light panel it was surrounding. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Pieces of radar absorbent material from an F-22 Raptor fall to the floor during Red Flag 17-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2017. The material was hammered away to allow for repairs to a light panel it was surrounding. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - Fifth-generation F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II pilots may take the reins of their respective aircraft; however, it takes preparation from outside the cockpit to get them where they need to go undetected.

Low observable, according to U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Moon, 192nd Fighter Wing LO aircraft structures technician, enhances the multi-role fighter’s stealth capability – an important asset in any contingency and at U.S. Air Force training exercise Red Flag 17-1.

“If the pilot’s seen by radar, he can be shot down,” said Moon. “If he isn’t, he can do his mission, go behind enemy lines, and they’ll never even know he was there until it’s too late. Without us, he’s going to get spotted, or shot down, so lives are at risk when it comes to our job.”

Pilots; however, aren’t the only ones that rely on technicians like Moon to repair LO aircraft structures. Before a maintainer can fix certain parts of a fifth-generation aircraft, LO must prepare the jet.

“When other people have problems with a jet, it’s going to affect LO,” said Moon pointing at an F-22 in a maintenance hangar. “Right now, something is wrong with a light panel on that jet. Since maintenance needs to get into that panel, we have to pick the radar absorbent material off and clean all the fasteners out so they can fix the light. Once the light is fixed we will re-bind the coating and material again to make it 100 percent ready.”

While fixing the light panel was unexpected – it kept the LO team working through the weekend – the technicians did prepare themselves for what Red Flag could entail.

“We knew they were going to fly the hell out of the jets because this is a large-scale exercise,” said Moon. “When the pilot flies he’ll bank real hard sometimes, which can tear or rip the radar absorbent material. If there are a lot of damages, the aircraft is easier to detect, so we try to keep those damages to a minimum to where you can’t see it on radar.”

For U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. William, 1st Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of intelligence analysis, preparation and attention to detail in the LO technicians’ field directly affects what intelligence analysts provide to pilots during mission briefings.

“I like to think of it like a triangle between intelligence, maintenance and the pilots,” said William. “We can give them very good information for what they’re going into, but if their jet isn’t performing the way they expect it to, them knowing that information doesn’t necessarily do them any good.”

For Moon, pressure doesn’t only come from enabling others jobs within the fifth-generation triangle, but from the realistic threats Red Flag presents.

“An exercise like this provides some of the most realistic training our pilots are going to get, so they really need to be able to depend on that jet performing the way they expect it to, so that they can get those realistic lessons learned,” said William. “The way their jet responds in this environment is meant to be the same it would perform in real combat.”

On top of the combat training, the stealth aircraft are also being tested by radar daily.

“At Red Flag, they’re testing our jets by hitting them with radar over the range, so that’s a lot of pressure for us – it’s really important that those jets come back undetected,” said Moon explaining that if the aircraft came back detected, LO would have to find and fix the issues, which he his team ha worked around-the-clock to prevent.

“This is training, so lives aren’t actually at risk, but we’re here for a reason,” said Moon of participating in the realistic combat training exercise. “We may be working thru the weekend here, but it’s our job and we’re blessed to have it. If we can keep up with the fast pace here, we can keep up anywhere.”

News Search