168th ARW maintainers keep aircraft mission ready

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Bernie Kale
  • 168th Air Refueling Wing public affairs
If you spend time with aircraft maintenance personnel for any length of time, you soon realize they speak in a language few outside of their career field understand.

For 168th Air Refueling Wing aircraft maintenance supervisor Staff Sgt. Josh Thompson, terms like, "one-one hundredths of a millimeter," "IFE's" (in flight emergency) and "push it to the pad" actually make sense when speaking to a coworker.

Thompson has worked on numerous aircraft while serving in the Air Force and Air National Guard. As an active duty Airman, he maintained B-1 Bombers and F-16 Falcons before transitioning to KC-135s when he joined the 168th nearly three years ago.

"The airframes are pretty much the same thing when you get down to the mechanics of it," Thompson said. "And they all require a fair amount of maintenance to keep it in the air."

Thompson said it takes some perfectionist or "type A" personality traits to ensure the KC-135, which was built in the early 1960s, is flying in top form.

"Of course, there have been improvements to the avionics and engine upgrades over the years, but without preventative scheduled maintenance, this aircraft would have a lot of issues and probably not be air-worthy," Thompson said. "That's why we have to be exact in our measurements and follow our 'technical orders,' word for word, every time we inspect the aircraft."

As Thompson works on the throttle cable on one of the engines, his coworker Tech. Sgt. Sean Finney is in the cockpit making additional adjustments to ensure everything is working properly.

Finney has been with 168th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron for his entire eight-year career, and revels in the fact that the maintenance side of aviation is often the unsung hero of the Air Force.

"My job is to maintain an aircraft that doesn't attract a lot of attention when compared to the more flashy fighters or bombers in the Air Force," Finney said. "But without the KC-135s performing air-refueling, their long-range strikes wouldn't be possible."

Both Thompson and Finney agree they wouldn't trade their jobs for any others in the military.

"It's more than a job," Finney said. "I get the satisfaction of knowing that I directly helped the mission by guaranteeing that our tankers will stay in the air for years to come and continue to fuel our fighters and bombers around the world. That's a great feeling."

The 168th Air Refueling Wing is the only Arctic region refueling unit and is responsible for refueling all of the Pacific Air Forces. Currently, the 168th transfers more fuel than any other Air National Guard tanker wing. Whether it's combat deployments or joint exercises year-round, the Alaska Air National Guard's KC-135s are always in need to provide in-air refueling.