Air Force

November 14, 2013

Aircraft washing: not your average bubble bath

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Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Frank Miller)
Senior Airman Brad Pippin, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintainer, washes an F-16 Fighting Falcon, Oct. 28, 2013, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Pippin washed the aircraft to meet mission readiness requirements

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE S.C. – After many hours in the sky, the 20th Fighter Wing’s F-16 Fighting Falcons get dirty. Whether from afterburner exhaust or smashed insects, the jets need to be washed.

Airmen from the 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here get the sudsy job of washing aircraft, scrubbing down the jets at the wash-rack.

“No later than every 180 days each jet has to be washed,” said Tech. Sgt. Walter Smith, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron corrosion control NCO in charge.

Without regular washing, dirt, grime and exhaust cause corrosion to the jet’s protective paint.

“The jet comes in, it’s checked…we tape everything up, make sure it’s good to go, and then we wash it,” said Airman 1st Class Courtney Swain, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons apprentice. “The longest part is the taping.”

Once everything is taped off, the aircraft is washed from top to bottom, including the landing gear and the wheels.

“When they’re done washing they rinse off all the soap and they determine if the jet is clean enough,” Smith said. “Then they start removing all the tape, and when their doing that, they call us out and we come and do a paint score.”

Following each aircraft’s wash, a corrosion paint score inspection is completed in order to assess any corrosion.

“There are 10 sections of the aircraft that are assessed and scored from zero to five, five being the worst,” Smith said. “Also there is one section that is assessed one point for every year that has passed since the last full paint date. In all there are 11 sections that contribute to a paint score to determine the overall health of the aircraft coating system.”

During the paint score, Airmen who wash the jet put all of the materials used for the wash back into two large lockers.

“Those are my materials and I am responsible for them,” Smith said. “I have to make sure that they’re serviceable to keep using, or if I need to replace anything. That way next time they come in to wash a jet, everything is serviceable and there won’t be any problems.”

After everything has been done, the paint score determines what happens to the jet next.

“If the jet receives a good score and doesn’t need any attention from us,” said Smith, “it just goes back out onto the flightline to resume the mission.”




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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