Every Airman plays an essential role in the Air Force mission, but sometimes it only takes one Airman to discover something so great it not only saves Air Force lives and money, but affects bases worldwide.
Senior Airman Jessica Reitano, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, received the Wing Quarterly Flight Maintenance Award July 22 at wing standup for going above and beyond to ensure the F-16 Fighting Falcons at Luke Air Force Base are safe to fly.
It was May 6 during the dayshift on the flightline when she was called out to inspect an F-16 D model two-seat aircraft.
“Before I got there, they thought the problem was that a few rivets, which are short metal pins to hold two plates of metal together, needed to be replaced since they were sheared off near the top,” Reitano said. “To replace them, the sidewall fairing first had to be removed to allow access.”
The Airmen worked quickly to have the fairing removed before calling Reitano back to replace the rivets.
“I used a mirror to find the backside of the rivets, so I could knock them out and replace them, but when I looked back there, I could see a crack straight through the seam,” Reitano said. “That’s how I found the issue.”
While she did not know it at the time, the cracked area that Reitano discovered was not only the first such crack ever found, but affected 80 percent of the jet’s structural integrity. If it had flown, it possibly could have withstood only two g-forces with a high probability of splitting apart during flight.
News of her findings rapidly up-channeled throughout the maintenance squadron, group leadership, as well as depot structural engineers from Lockheed Martin, and the decision was made to immediately ground all the F-16 D model aircraft at Luke.
“Once the aircraft were grounded, an immediate local one-time inspection was done on all the aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Brian Leonard, 56th EMS flight chief. “The results of our inspection at Luke led to the publication of a technical order which provided direction for the inspection of the canopy still longerons on all the F-16 D model aircraft worldwide.”
Reitano’s actions not only saved aircraft but lives.
“We could have potentially lost an entire $25 million aircraft,” Leonard said. “There is also no price that can be put on the lives of the two Airmen flying the aircraft if the worst had happened. Senior Airman Reitano demonstrated outstanding maintenance professionalism when she thoroughly inspected an aircraft and found a critical problem even though initially the discrepancy looked to be relatively minor. Instead of simply addressing just the discrepancy of two broken rivets, she visually inspected the entire area to determine proper clearance for maintenance repair actions and looked for any other damage in the area.”
Although Reitano is confident that any one of the Airmen she works with could have seen the issue, she is grateful to be recognized for her actions.
“I feel honored to have won the award,” Reitano said. “I’m very thankful to my supervisors for putting me up for it, and it’s finding things like this and making a difference, that makes my job so rewarding. My favorite part of this job is no matter how many times you work on the same jet, there could always be something you’ve never done.”