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Maintainers sniff out solution to F-16 fuel cell issues

Staff Sgt. Deidra Braun and Tech. Sgt. Annmarie Schneider work to resolve a fuel cell problem that was found during routine maintenance on an F-16. The problem is being evaluated on every F-16 assigned to Traux Field. ((Photo by Master Sgt. James Hale)

Staff Sgt. Deidra Braun and Tech. Sgt. Annmarie Schneider work to resolve a fuel cell problem that was found during routine maintenance on an F-16. The problem is being evaluated on every F-16 assigned to Traux Field. ((Photo by Master Sgt. James Hale)

MADISON, Wis. -- Inspections are a regular but critical part of the job for the 115th Fighter Wing fuel systems maintenance team. During an extensive inspection of an F-16 in April, shop mechanics discovered its fuel cell was leaking. 

With their attention to detail during inspections and their ability to work together, the fuel cell shop was able to smoothly replace the fuel cell. 

It took two full weeks to repair and concluded after a final part, the fuel quantity test set, returned from deployment in May and completion of the F-1 fuel cell removal and installation final ops check. 

A fuel cell is made out of a type of thick rubber material, said Tech. Sgt. Annmarie Schneider, one of the F-16 fuel systems maintenance technicians working the leak repair. If it leaks, the shop has to replace the entire cell. It is a long process of taking all the tubing and pumps inside the cell out before the mechanics can take the damaged cell out. It is believed the fuel cell leaked due to normal wear and tear. 

If the leak was not fixed it could have caused a fire on the aircraft. 

"The F-1 fuel cell or bladder is a very large job," said Senior Master Sgt. Patrick Day, F-16 Fuel Systems NCOIC. "The fuel systems maintenance shop managed to perform this job as well as the retorque of wing attach fittings on 11 assigned aircraft." 

The retorque was a result of faulty wing attach fitting hardware installed at depot resulting in Time Compliance Technical Directives. While performing all these jobs, the fuel cell maintenance team also performed maintenance on two additional aircraft with cracked fuel shelves. 

Though fuel systems shop mechanics discovered the leak during a non-routine inspection and were most involved in the repair process, there were many shops contributing to the successful F-1 fuel cell removal and installation, including the electrical and avionics shop. 

Many mechanics worked together to get parts out of the way so the fuel systems maintenance team could access the fuel cell for repairs, said Sergeant Schneider. It was a complete team effort across different shops during a time of high demand for maintenance assets. 

"I thought we worked well together considering we had a lot of heavy maintenance on our aircraft going on at that time so we were trying to work that and (the leak) here," said Master Sgt. James Hale, 115th Maintenance Squadron. 

The fuel systems team proved their ability once more to effectively inspect and repair the fighter jets here. 

"The fuel systems maintenance shop is most definitely dedicated to excellence and we take a tremendous amount of pride in all that we do," said Sergeant Day. "Our focus is to supply safe mission capable fuel systems for the overall success of our unit."
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