IAMA Fighter jet mechanic that has worked F-22, F-16, F-117 and A-10 aircraft. Ask me almost anything.
I am a 15 year veteran that has been around the world working these planes. I will answer anything I can that doesn't touch on anything sensitive.
EDIT Dont know if this is enough proof. Some things I've gathered in my travels. Verification
WOW! Didn't expect this level of response.
Just to clarify, I HAVE NOT TOUCHED a F-35. I have seen one. Anything I say about the the F-35 is my opinion based off experience from aircraft I've worked.
Wiki for the F-22: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_F-22_Raptor
Wiki for the F-16: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics_F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Wiki for the A-10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairchild_Republic_A-10_Thunderbolt_II
More then a few people have asked me how to get into aviation maintenance. Obviously, the military is one way. The civilian side requires schools and a license from the FAA called an Airframe and Powerplant license. I have not worked civilian aviation and never plan too. The job market is volatile and a good diesel mechanic makes more in a lot of places.
EDIT I was a little harsh on pilots. They are people just like anyone else that make mistakes. I have met a few in my time that are awesome people. I had a commander that spent 6 months as an Iraqi POW and was one of the most caring and awesome people I've ever met. He would takeoff late to sit and explain what he was doing on a mission because he felt it was important to know what our work accomplished.
Where do you think military avation is headed with the advent of drones? Do you think all those pilots you're so fond of will still have jobs in say... 30-40 years?
Pilots are a dieing breed. Planes will start exceeding human capabilities in the next generation.
I wrote the SBIT code for the F-22 CSMU in the my first job out of grad school in 1995. Nice to hear from somebody that might know what that means.
You'll be happy to know the CSMU almost never breaks. But when it does it is one of the worst parts to change.
What makes the A-10 such a tank in the air, as in it can take a lot of punishment and still stay up.
It has a titanium tub built around the cockpit that can take up to a 23mm round, ballistic foam to minimize damage from impacts. It engines are also situated where it's hard to take damage from the ground.
I'm trying to help reddit get something done but people don't seem to give a shit anymore. So I'm going to ask you a question I have asked many others without success: Do you have any previous experience opening safes?
Oxy-Acetelyne. Just pray it's not packed with explosives.
I see you're a little biased towards the F-16, but from an engineer/mechanic's stance, which plane is your favorite and why? I personally love the A-10.
That's a tough one. I would still go F-16. Ease of maintenance and it's wide arrange of abilities at a relatively low cost put it out front. The F-22 is a more lethal aircraft but it has a lot of things that make me stop and ask "WTF were they thinking". The A-10 is a close second because of its survivability and firepower.
Could you elaborate a bit on the F-22 part? I really don't know as much about planes as I feel I should, but I've had a strange attraction to that plane as well.
The F-22 was designed to perform first and foremost and to be easily maintained second. There are more then a few parts that are buried in the plane that the engineers figured would never need to be changed. They were very wrong.
Are you referring to the difficulty involved in servicing and handling the hazmats which run some of the systems? I had a teacher who flew F-22s who mentioned that they had some very nasty shit in them but would never elaborate and it's next to impossible to find out what that kind of obscure and toxic materials are buried inside of them. All of the crashes resulted in hazmat cleanup and recovery as a #1 priority, i'm sure it's common procedure with all of the planes you work on, but it seems to be more pronounced with the F-22s.
For those not familiar with the topic there's a great article about them here (and it even explicitly mentions the folks that service them) http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/stealth-pilots-coughing/
Every plane is chock full of hazardous chemicals. The F-22 is no worse then any other. The worst is probably the F-16. It has a chemical called hydrazine on it. Real nasty stuff. I was exposed to it a few times (by pilots playing with buttons they shouldn't have) and had to be blood tested every month for a year after exposure.
Hydrazine is rocket fuel and carcinogenic. What is this in a fighter for? Ejection seat? Please tell me it is the turbo boosters!
It powers an emergency generator.
As an acquisition professional, I can give you some ideas of what they were thinking:
- Contractor decided they'd make more money that way.
- Senior government employee who's not directly working for the contract, but holds influence heaped a pet project into it.
- Requirements creep.
From an engineer's perspective: 1. It was the most cost efficient/effective way to to it. 2. Because fuck the user, that's why.
The money we spend on things in the military is scary. The 30k toilet seat doesn't exist, but there are hundreds of screws, nuts, bolts that are hundreds of dollars on these planes.
I work on high end antennas. One day I had the choice between just accepting the contractor's proposal to use 5 $60 washers, or paying them several hundred dollars to put together a justification to use the 5 $60 since it's a cost reimbursable contract and the engineers aren't cheap and they're slow when you ask them to do something they don't want to. Then of course the report has to go through management review, probably at least two layers. Then we apply overhead, cost of money, general and administrative, and fee, and before we know it, my question could cost way more than the washers ever would (and they'd still probably use the washers).
If you want to be rich, make something you can sell the government. I'll leave it at that.
Hello. Thanks for the AMA and the quick verification. I think it's good enough for this.
I'm wondering if you have ever had to quickly (and perhaps seemingly haphazardly) patch up a plane that had been damaged in combat. It seems like kind of a Hollywood thing, but maybe you've been in some of those situations.
I'd also like to know your impressions of the F-22 with regards to its high-maintenance reputation and if that might give any insight into the F-35 program.
War planes have what is called an "Aircraft Battle Damage Repair" or ABDR plan. It gives guidelines on what kind of damage can be quickly fixed to get the aircraft back into service. I was in one of the few squadrons that did this type of work so I did get to patch more then a few for practice and a few for real. On an F-16, depending on the location of the damage, any hole under 1 inch could be patched with foil tape.
Airplanes are like cars. The more features you add, the more things there are that can break. The F-22 is no different. The F-22 program as a whole has been looked at with a fine tooth comb to try and glean cost saving measures for the F-35. Fifth Generation aircraft are a new thing and the bugs are still being worked out.
Do the pilots treat mechanics like crap? How's the relations between enlisted vs commissioned?
I personally dislike pilots..... They aren't bad people, they just don't realize what a pain in the ass they are sometimes.
Here is why. Having loose objects in the cockpit of a fighter jet is bad. Say you drop your pen and it becomes lodged in the rails of the ejection seat. That's no good for the dude that might have to eject. Pilots love to drop this shit ALL THE TIME! The mechanic (me) then gets to spend however much time it takes finding it. And you keep looking till you find it, even if it involves tearing half the plane apart.
Also they all think that they are complete badasses. I'm convinced Top Gun ruined them.
Speaking of top gun, Do they have snazzy nick names on the cockpit?
On the plane no..... Plastered all over them yes.
As a crewed aircraft pilot, I feel obligated to say that the maintainers lose shit in the plane just as much as we do.
More often than not, the mechanics search as long as they can without having to take a "maintenance cancel", then fill out paperwork saying that they lost a wrench or whatever and give the plane to us.
There are very specific instructions (see 21-101) for how to handle lost tools/items. We are just following the book. I can't count how many times we've gone above and beyond (not always willingly) the requirements to find a missing item, all the way up until it's time for you to go fly it. Don't get that confused. Also, if we thought it was a danger to flight, trust me, we wouldn't give the plane to you. That's what tail swaps are for.
As a fellow aircraft maintainer, I'd like to make a couple guesses and would like some confirmation on a few questions.
- As someone that used the term mechanic, you are a crew chief, eh?
- Some of the details you've listed leave me to believe that you are in the Air Force, am I right?
- How do you feel about Specialists? Do you actually care at all outside of the at-work jeering?
- If given the choice, would you rather work on heavy aircraft or are you one of those "Fighters or gtfo" kinda guys?
Thanks man, I appreciate your job from one maintainer to the next.
Specs are ok when you can get them off WoW.....J/K. I am a crew chief and specs rock! Especially on the F-22. They do avionics and electro/enviromental on the F-22. The amount of stuff they are required to know is incredible. Some of the smartest people you will meet work these planes , while some of the dumbest fly and design them...
Your a mechanical type. My car is making a noise, like a whoosh-thunk-whoosh ing noise. Can you fix it?
Change the kneuter valve and align the flux capacitor.
That's a wide range of aircraft to be sure...designs going back decades all the way to the latest models.
From a nuts & bolts standpoint, how much more advanced is an F-22 from, say, an A-10? I'm not talking avionics or weapons systems, but engines, controls, etc.
Worlds... The A-10 has cable flight controls, older high bypass engines and a very non aero-dynamic design compared to an F-22. The engines on the F-22 are the best thing about it. They are also all fly by wire aircraft like F-16 and F-18's are. They also make extensive use of fiber optics for the first time in a fighter aircraft.
Doesn't the F22 have some sort of thrust vectoring going on with its engines?
It does. Works in tandem with the flight controls.
What was the most beat up aircraft that you've seen fly again / make it home?
Hands down the A-10. It was built to be shot at. They hand one come back in the first gulf war with half the tail and a good chunk of wing missing.
What happens to those planes that get so badly shot up? Completely scrapped? Good parts salvaged and used as replacements on other planes? Fixed up?
They do a cost analysis to determine the feasibility of repairing it. Most of the time it's cheaper to fix then it's is to buy a new one. And most of these planes aren't manufactured anymore, so you really aren't left with many options.
How often do your torque wrenches have to be calibrated?
What was the F-117 like to work on due to it's technology? Much more difficult than a standard aircraft?
I worked this airframe the least. It was a very awkward plane. Engineers designed the shape and then stuffed a bunch of shit in it to make it fly. One of its first nicknames was "the wobblin goblin" because it was such a crappy shape for flight. It could not have flown without all the the flight control computers.
Did you find satisfaction in your job?
Most of the time. I don't agree with everything that I have to do, but I'm not a policy maker.
Can you give an example of something that you disagree about?
Where our country focuses it efforts at time. Spent a lot of time in sandy places with lots of oil around helping people that hate us.
I've got to ask, what country did you go travel to in order to get that sweet severed tow?
South east side of DC...... Still the scariest place I've ever been.
What percentage of your knowledge about the various aircraft would be considered classified information? HOw much do other countries know and how do they know?
I know the second question is a bit stupid but I think you understand the gist of what Im asking.
I know enough not to definitively answer your question. What do other countries know? I have no idea. I can say this with absolute certainty, no country on the planet can challenge the US in the air.
Do you think that any US planes could legitimately survive through modern surface to air weaponry though? (Like the SA-10s)
We wouldn't have to worry about them. For a full scale war those are the first things targeted. We go in and knock them out so the bombers can have free range. The F-16 carries a missile just for SAM's called a HARM (high speed anti radiation) or an AGM-88. As soon as the radar site turns on to look for a jet it will have a very fast missile coming to say hello.
Why do you think no country can challenge the US in the air? What about the russians?How can you know what they have or anyone else does and what are the capabilities of it and say you are unbeatable in air combat?
Russia hasn't maintained their military since the end of the cold War. They are just now starting to really modernize and we have a 25 year head start. Our defense budget is bigger then the next 26 countries combined. All those cool looking planes you see in ace combat that are Russian, they don't exist in any kind of sizeable numbers. The American military travels the globe doing joint exercises with foreign militaries. We don't lose very often when pitted head to head. We have better equipment and our forces are the best trained.
The exception might be Israel. Our pilots always sweated going head to head with those dudes.
All those cool looking planes you see in ace combat that are Russian, they don't exist in any kind of sizeable numbers.
I was so bummed out when I found out the Sukhoi SU-47 never went into proper production.
Ace Combat crushed my dreams. LOL
On another note: Have you ever had to deal with any Canadian Forces/Mechanics/Equipment? If so, any thoughts/opinions on the CF-18 and what Canada should do with their near-future gigantic purchases?
PS: Thanks for directly/indirectly protecting my Canadian ass.
CANADA! BEST TDY EVER! There is a big exercise there everyonce in a while that draws countries from all over to participate (cold lake). I went the first time the day after turning 19, which happened to be the legal drinking age there, so it was awesome from the bits I do remember. CF-18 pilots are crazy. Legit crazy. I was refueling my F-16 there when I see this black cloud approaching. It gets closer and I can see its a German MiG-29 flying really low. The damn thing comes screaming directly over head 300ft off the ground with a Canadian F-18 right on its ass giving chase. Literally the entire flightline ducked they were so low. One of the coolest things I've seen.
Awesome. Have you ever had the opportunity to go to RIMPAC?
Nope. Not familiar with that.
You were liberal talking about the A-10s airframe for example, so Im assuming that area is already common knowledge, what would be the most sought after knowledge, probably regarding the jets engines and stealth right?
Capabilities. If you know what it can do, you can figure out how to defeat it. The stealth concept is a fairly easy to find out about. It's nothing secret anymore. The concept is as old as radar really.
What's the best way to take one of these fighter jets down? Do they have any one major weakness in common? Like the Death Star or something?
Watch Iron Eagle.....All you ever needed to know about fighter jets.
I fucking love you now! Iron Eagle 1 fucking rules! Made me fall in love with the F-16. Fuck that Top Gun shit! DOUG MASTERS AND CHAPPY SINCLAIR RULE!
Lol thanks. That movie makes me cringe now after working on F-16's. SO many liberties taken with what they can do.
Do F-16's now have inputs for ipods, or do you still have to strap a Walkman to your leg to get in the zone?
You can actually make an input for an iPod, but hooking an iPod up to a 35 Million dollar jet carrying classified information is frowned on. I will say that they DO NOT fire missiles on the ground intentionally, and a side scrolling LED indicator telling you a missile is coming would get you killed.
Awesome I will. What kind of training did you do before working on each model?
2 months of Aircraft Fundamentals and 6 months of specific training for F-16's in tech school. Everything else was on the job and various schools throughout my time. Every new air frame was hands on training.
What is the worst damage you've ever had to repair?
Crash wise...... Probably a F-16 that belly landed after an "inadvertent " gear retraction. We ended up having to get a jet that had been decommissioned and stored and making one whole jet from the 2.
Battle damage wise was a F-16 that went to strafe a convoy and had a bad round of ammo. The round exploded beside the cockpit punching a few holes in to the side of the plane.
Was the f-16 landing or taking off?
What kind of salary does a mechanic make? Starting year 1 and after 15 years in the military?
They pay the military pretty well when you start getting into the E-5 and up pay grades. With allowances I can't complain. I would say we make more then our civilian counterparts, but we also put up with a lot more.
As an aviation mechanic, are you actually qualified to work on the A-10? The ratio of ammunitions to airplane-y parts has to be at least 9:1?
Not qualified anymore. After a year of not touching a specific airframe you lose your rating on it. I've been on F-22's for a long time now.
The plane was designed around the gun. It's a large plane and can hold a lot of munitions. It has a hard time getting off the ground on a 10k runway fully loaded.
Where do you see the future of military aircraft headed? In this current conflict, air power seems to be geared towards ground support using modern UAVs along with old school gunships (I love the AC-130 with all my heart). Where does that leave the fighter jock in this day and age?
I honestly think the F-35 is the last manned fighter jet. UAVs are the future. Operators can tag out so there is no crew rest issue, and you can build aircraft that go beyond the G-limit of a human pilot.
Sounds like you're a ground person and not a water person so you might not be able to answer...
What are the differences in airplane maintenance between the Navy and everyone else? What's it like fixing a plane on a carrier? Are there differences?
I have worked with the Navy but never on a carrier. It definitely 2 different worlds. But they are more similar to each other then they are to civilian aviation. Military aircraft are maintained to extremely rigorous standards.
Might we have some proof?
Also, what would you say is the easiest to work on?
Working of verification with mods. F-16 would be the easiest to me, but I'm biased. It was the first jet I worked and the one I worked the longest.
Have you ever been up close and personal to a F-35 VTOL?
I have not. There are only 2 fly able VTOL F-35's now I think.
What are some of your all time favorite military aircraft?
P-51 Mustang. Was the first model I ever built as a kid and loved them ever since.
Can you rap?
In the shower after a night of drinking maybe?
Do you work on drone aircraft?
I have not.
Do you get to test fly these jets after repairs?
No. Very few repairs require test flights. All tests are done with ground equipment before they fly. I am an enlisted mechanic, all flying is done by commissioned officers.
Are you sick of people asking when you'll get to fly them, or if you want to be a pilot?
The first thing people ask when I tell them I fix fighter jets....
"Cool, how often do you get to fly them"
I don't get upset anymore.
F-117 you suffered holloman to?
Holloman at least had an Applebee's! Mt Home had nothing worth eating at.
I just watched a video on youtube of an F22 using thrust vectoring, it looks awesome. Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WojSqPB7ss From looking at the video it appears that the plane is flying mostly without the need for any airspeed, relying only on the vectoring to defeat gravity. Am I right? Can you tell me some more cool features of the Raptor? Thanks!
Search F-22 demo videos. I have watched them practice countless times. My favorite move is when the pilot takes the plane straight vertical and loses all forward airspeed, and actually starts falling backwards before flipping it level and throttling it up and moving again.
We call that crashing in most other planes....
Can you make an omelette?
View HistoryShare Link