Pedal power pushes pilots, maintainers
By Tech. Sgt. Don Nelson, 115th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 19, 2009
MADISON, Wis. -- Sharing the road with cars is something bicyclists are very familiar with. For one group of bicyclists in Madison, sharing the road with vehicles and jet airplanes is just part of their job.
Known as one of the most bicycle-friendliest cities in the U.S., Madison is host to a unique bicycle community at Truax Air National Guard Base here. Airmen from the 115th Fighter Wing consider these two- and three-wheeled modes of transportation as an essential part of their mission.
Pilots and maintainers on the unit's F-16 Fighting Falcons use bikes on a daily basis traveling from the hangars and shops to where the jets are parked on the flightline. Users say that the bikes are a great resource for the high tempo operations they often are involved with.
"It is a life saver," said Tech. Sgt. Rob Brinks, an F-16 crew chief, describing his favorite three-wheeled orange bike. "I can haul all kinds of things like tools and head sets while doing it with a little bit of flair."
In addition to convenience, bikes also offer a measure of conservation for the unit as well according to Master Sgt. Darrell Miller, an F-16 crew chief. Typically, trucks and other vehicles are used to transport personnel to places where aircraft maintenance takes place.
"Using bikes is cost-effective and helps reduce the usage on our vehicles," said Sergeant Miller. "The short starting and stopping distances are also hard on the diesel engines as well."
Many pilots and maintainers uses the bikes to save time due to the long walks often required to get to the airplanes. It also helps members maintain fitness levels too, said Master Sgt. Robert Blodgett, an F-16 weapons system specialist.
Some of the units have their own fleet of bikes while other members bring in their own. Senior Master Sgt. Al Dickrell, an F-16 crew chief supervisor, realized early on that a bike would be useful.
"I was only on the job for a week and I realized I could not do this entirely on foot," said Sergeant Dickrell. "My feet were very tired at the end of the day and knew right then that I had to get a bike that was specific to me."
The use of bikes on the flightline is not universal across the Air Force according to the maintainers who have been stationed other places in the Guard and on active duty. However, the use of bikes at the 115 FW has increased over the years.
Another cited advantage of bikes is that they do not need to stop to check for FOD, or foreign object damage. Prior to vehicles entering the flightline, they are required to be checked for FOD that could potentially get sucked into an aircraft engine.
While Sergeant Dickrell said that his bike is critical to his daily routine of getting important information to his crew chiefs, there are more basic needs that the bikes are useful for.
"The bikes are helpful for something as simple as a guy needing to use the bathroom," said Sergeant Dickrell. "Being able to get to the bathroom quick from the flightline very much enhances the mission."