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Armament flight puts the ‘fight’ in Fighting Falcons

Staff Sgts. Byron Kooima and Kathleen Branch, weapons technicians with the 162nd Armament Flight, remove panels, inspect and perform maintenance on an AIM 9 missile launcher from an F-16. AIM 9s require detailed inspections at a minimum of every 18 months from last service. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

Staff Sgts. Byron Kooima and Kathleen Branch, weapons technicians with the 162nd Armament Flight, remove panels, inspect and perform maintenance on an AIM 9 missile launcher from an F-16. AIM 9s require detailed inspections at a minimum of every 18 months from last service. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

Staff Sgt. Gregory Torrens, a weapons technician with the 162nd Armament Flight, disassembles and inspects a LAU-129 launcher from an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a required 18-month inspection. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

Staff Sgt. Gregory Torrens, a weapons technician with the 162nd Armament Flight, disassembles and inspects a LAU-129 launcher from an F-16 Fighting Falcon for a required 18-month inspection. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree Twombly)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Air Guardsmen in charge of "alternate" mission equipment, or AME, know their mission is "primary" for the F-16 Fighting Falcons that take off here daily. 

Airmen at the162nd Armament Flight maintain the F-16's complex matrix of pylons, launchers, adapters and other equipment used to hold bombs and missiles. 

"Typically what we do is service AME and support equipment for the jets. Anything that launches weapons on the aircraft... we inspect and maintain," said Staff Sgt. Byron Kooima, weapons technician. 

In addition to the full inventory of AME currently mounted on 162nd Fighter Wing aircraft, the flight keeps extras in storage to quickly replace unserviceable equipment. The flight also maintains universal ammunition loading systems, linkless ammunition loading systems, bomb release units and triple ejection racks to name a few. 

This amounts to the movement of hundreds of pieces of equipment annually. 

"We maintain over 850 pieces of equipment and average 988 inspections a year, some AME require inspections every 90 days," said Senior Master Sgt. David Voigt, 162nd Armament Flight Supervisor. "Within each calendar month we average 82 inspections."
They also provide consistent and timely delivery of all inspections on AME for the F-16 aggressor program at the U.S. Navy's Top Gun school in Fallon, Nev. Over the past five years, the flight has saved the Navy approximately $10 million dollars. 

With so much to account for, the flight meticulously follows a rigorous maintenance schedule. 

"We have two schedules, dayshift and nightshift, our biggest challenge is meeting the AME inspection schedules, and the unit's requirements knowing without AME the pilots can't make their missions," said Sergeant Voigt. 

The armament flight consists of 21 team members; 14 are full-time Guardsmen and seven are traditional Guardsmen. Of the 21, four are assigned to the tool room where maintenance and inventory is accomplished on more than 3,000 tools and various test equipment. 

"There are a lot different aspects to what we do here. Not only do we perform inspections, maintenance, calibrations and ordering of supplies but we have to keep track of all this. Knowing all the schedules and requirements for each can get crazy sometimes, but we do a pretty good job of keeping on schedule," said Staff Sgt. Keith Evans, weapons and tools technician. 

With all of these challenges, the job has its rewards. 

"The people I work with are outstanding. The camaraderie is great. Whatever the tasking we all work together to get it done," said Sergeant Kooima. 

"Seeing our product returned to service and knowing we did a good job means a great deal to us in terms of job satisfaction, the bottom line is AME is used every day in several different configurations on the F-16 to meet the mission requirements for our training pilots," said Sergeant Voigt.