MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan —
One of Misawa Air Base’s most famous flightline assets hit a historic milestone June 10. A 29-year-old Block-50 F-16 Fighting Falcon, tail number 808 and affectionately known as “BOB,” reached 10,000 flight hours during a sortie flown across Japan.
BOB is the first Block-50 F-16 in the entire Air Force inventory to hit 10,000 hours after Col. Kristopher Struve, 35th Fighter Wing commander, piloted the aircraft through the history-making flight.
“Ten thousand flight hours is a testament to American engineering, but more importantly, the blood, sweat and tears of the thousands of maintainers who have turned a wrench on this aircraft since 1990,” Struve said following the flight. “This jet has been in service for 29 years and an 18-year-old maintainer launched me today. I am proud of our maintenance team and how they continue to make the mission happen. They work around the clock to ensure our base is ready and able to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific at any time, whenever called upon.”
Senior Airman Gage Putman, a 14th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief, may have taken over primary maintenance of the jet on May 4, 2018, but gives credit to the whole AMU and countless others throughout its lifetime for the aircraft’s longevity.
“Everybody has pitched in with their effort to get BOB to where it’s at now,” Putman said. “BOB having so many flight hours is just a reflection of everybody’s work ethic here.”
Aircraft 808 etched its name in history flying in support of Operation Southern Watch in 1999 and during exercises like Pitch Black, Vigilant Ace, Red Flag and, most recently, in support of exercise Cope Tiger. The longevity of this aircraft is thanks to its maintenance team, consisting of one crew chief and several other maintenance professionals, rotating in and out to provide service to the F-16s 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In order to maintain this high-level operations tempo, every 400 flight hours the jets are put into what’s known as “phase maintenance.” This is no quick process; it takes more than 800 maintenance actions, consuming upward of 1,500 man-hours to complete. Maintenance crews disassemble the jet, thoroughly inspect all of the systems and components and then rebuild it. Throughout the entire process, some maintainers feel the jets take on their own temperaments, said Capt. Kayla Pipe, the 14th AMU officer in charge.
“I would say BOB has the most personality on the flightline,” Pipe said. “BOB will throw a fit every TDY. He doesn’t like going, but when he’s in the air, he is the show horse and a real champ.”
It is for this reason she believes the aircraft engineers have extended the life of the aircraft, allowing an F-16, like BOB, to surpass milestone after milestone. And every time this aircraft flew past yet another engineering landmark, there, side-by-side, stood a dedicated crew chief.
Like so many before him, Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Grochowski, the 14th AMU superintendent, said every Airman who touched this aircraft played a huge part in ensuring the maximum safety and longevity of BOB and other F-16s like “him.”
“I’m real proud of all the maintainers,” Grochowski said. “It’s not just Samurais and Panthers I’m proud of; I’m proud of the back shop, the people no longer stationed here and even the retirees who used to crew BOB.”
Grochowski said the number of people aside from the pilot and dedicated crew chief who don’t receive recognition or high fives grows as every year passes. They may not have their names on the side of the jet, but that does not take away from the fact those individuals keep the jets going for thousands of hours beyond their original engineering.
Similarly, Putman added that taking on this job as a senior airman can get overwhelming, but most of the time it gives him a good feeling.
“Life out here can get pretty rough,” Putman said. “But seeing a pilot go knock out a mission while the jet is doing crazy stuff in the air, hitting milestones like this and all with your name on it is pretty satisfying.”
Of all the crew chiefs who’ve worked on BOB and those who could have been selected as the aircraft’s dedicated crew chief, Putman added that it is a privilege because it is one of Misawa AB’s best F-16s and it’s his F-16.
“Hitting 10,000 hours honestly doesn’t surprise me as much as it probably should because it’s an awesome jet and it’s mine,” Putman said.
Given that the Air Force extended the F-16’s service life to 12,000 hours in 2017, maintainers like Putman will continue to pour their blood, sweat and tears into BOB and every other aircraft on Misawa AB’s flightline for many years to come and continue to accomplish the 35th Fighter Wing mission every day.