MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, also known as the Fighting Bengals, and originally stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., has spent a few months on deployment throughout the Western Pacific.
As part of the Unit Deployment Program, a program implemented to allow units to deploy to various locations throughout the Western Pacific, the squadron has been able to participate in exercises with international allied forces.
With many missions accomplished, there is still more to do, and during their last few months on deployment, it has become more important to assure that all assets and equipment are in good condition.
Since Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 has returned to Iwakuni from its most recent close-air support exercise, Southern Frontier at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, the squadron has been working hard in preparation for its next mission.
VMFA(AW)-224’s next mission will be participating with Combat Logistics Company 36, Marine Aircraft Group 12 and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing during PHIBLEX, an exercise conducted in conjunction with the Filipino Air Force and the Republic of the Philippines to conduct integrated operations and build unit cohesion.
After five weeks of flying and riddling the Royal Australian Delamere Air Weapons Range with live ordnance, the flight hours accumulated during deployment added to the wear and tear on the F/A-18 Hornet jets, which can put the pilot at risk if the jets are not properly and regularly maintained.
To keep up on the wear and tear, VMFA(AW)-224 is required to perform a series of inspections approximately every 200 flight hours accumulated by each jet.
“One of our aircraft went into phase maintenance right when we got back from Australia,” said Lance Cpl. Sam Muchmore, fixed-wing airframes aircraft mechanic with VMFA(AW)-224. “We have spent a whole week on that one aircraft.”
The inspections are divided into four categories; Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta.
In order to meet the requirements of each inspection, VMFA(AW)-224 puts forth hundreds of man hours to perform vital phase maintenance.
According to Cpl. William Higgins, fixedwing airframes aircraft mechanic with VMFA(AW)-224, the maintenance and inspections conducted can take days, even weeks to complete.
“If we tried to do all the phases together, it would take forever,” said Higgins. “We divide up the workload and try to manage our time.” Even with the workload divided between categories of phases and among six different shops within the squadron, the workload still remains to be tedious.
“It takes forever,” said Muchmore. “The whole aircraft component gets taken apart and broken down.”
While in between deployments, VMFA(AW)-224 spent more than 400 man hours in one week conducting a phase Bravo inspection on one of the squadron’s F/A-18 Hornet jets here last week.
“Bravo and Delta phases are more difficult,”said Higgins. “They are more tedious and require a lot more work.”
In order to conduct the Bravo inspection, multiple electrical and mechanical components had to be taken apart, undone and then reinstalled.
“It involves taking off all the panels, servos and moving parts,” said Muchmore. “We have to make sure everything inside is still working well.”
According to Muchmore, taking apart and reinstalling the wing panels on an F/A-18 requires a lot of focus and organization to ensure a successful rebuild.
“It’s like taking apart and putting together a big puzzle,” said Muchmore. “Some of the fasteners are different sizes, and it’s important not to get them mixed up. Some panels even have three different sizes.”
Once the maintenance and inspections are done, VMFA(AW)-224 pilots conduct proflights to ensure components are working properly.
“Pilots will do something called a roll check,” said Higgins. “They will fly the Hornet, and when they let go of the steering, the jet should fly straight by itself. If something is off, then we know to make the proper adjustments and fix the problem.”
According to Higgins, there is a lot more to a phase Bravo inspection than just making sure the jets steer properly and every component is just as tedious.
“The inspections consist of a lot of different checks,” said Higgins. “We have to service the landing gear, take the motor out and keep track of technical directives. It takes a combined effort of six different shops.”
With everything good-to-go, VMFA(AW)-224 has a few months of Western Pacific exercises to look forward to as the squadron continues to work to complete the mission.
Originally published: Marines.mil