The engine that could -- turbofan sets wing record for longevity

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- There was no fanfare or ceremony June 2, when four A-10 crew chiefs and a jet-engine mechanic removed an engine from the left side of a 442nd Fighter Wing A-10 Thunderbolt II. But maybe there should've been.

What looked like just another routine engine-removal, was, in fact, a testament to durability, craftsmanship and good aircraft maintenance.

When the General Electric-made TF34-100A turbofan engine, serial number 5036, was installed on A-10, tail-number 605, in June 1999, Bill Clinton was president and NATO had just stopped its bombing campaign in Kosovo.

According to Chief Master Sgt. Mike Pignotti, 442nd Maintenance Squadron engine-shop supervisor, the 10-year run for Engine 5036 is a new wing record.

"We know of another engine that went nine years one time but 10 years is a record for this wing," he said. "It's one thing to have it on 10 years but it ran over 3,400 hours since its last overhaul and that's significant."

In fact, Engine 5036 ran for 3,464.4 hours, propelling A-10 605 through the air for 2,621.9 of those hours, in the 10 years it's been mounted to the airplane. Part of that time was in the skies over Iraq when the wing deployed Citizen Airmen and A-10s for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

The "average time on wing" for the TF34 engine, used on all A-10s, is 1,180 hours across the entire Air Force, according to Steve Striebeck, the chief of technical services for the 538th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. The 538th is responsible for the TF-34 engine program Air Force-wide.

"(Ten years and more than 3,460 hours) is quite a milestone," Mr. Striebeck said.

To put it in perspective, the average age of an American passenger car was 9.4 years in 2008, according to R.L. Polk and Company, which mines automotive data.

"I've never seen an engine stay on this long on any airplane I've worked on," Chief Pignotti said. "We must be doing something right." He should know since he's been maintaining Air Force aircraft since 1975 and turning wrenches on A-10s since 1984.

The chief shares the credit for Engine 5036's longevity - it's a combination of a good design, a well-crafted engine, skilled and experienced maintainers, as well as a testament to the team that overhauled it back in 1999, he said.

The engine crew chief for its last overhaul, finished in June 1999, was Master Sgt. William George, still an Air Reserve Technician and the TF34 Flight line supervisor in the 917th Maintenance Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.

"We strive to make these things last," Sergeant George said. "If everything is good on that engine, our goal is for them to last 2,500 hours.

"When we build them in the shop, it's so critical you do everything correctly in that engine," he said. "I always look at it as if I were the one flying in that airplane."

Chief Pignotti estimated that the engine overhaul specialists at Barksdale have refurbished more than 300 to 400 TF34 engines.

"We've got to give credit to the ARTs (Air Reserve Technicians) down at Barksdale who did the last overhaul," Chief Pignotti said. "Where else but in the Reserve and Guard are you going to get that kind of experience?"

The chief also credited the aircraft's crew chief, Master Sgt. John Ezell, as well as other 442nd maintainers with how long Engine 5036 has been serving.

"We do extra things in phase (maintenance) that add to the reliability of our engines," Chief Pignotti said. "Between what's done in the phase dock and what's done on the flight-line, we have some of the best maintained aircraft in the Air Force."

Phase maintenance is completed on A-10s every 500 flight hours and requires a thorough look at all the plane's systems, including both engines.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Rusty Wedemeyer, the 442nd Maintenance Squadron's engine manager, it was a "time-compliance technical order" that finally forced Engine 5036 off the engine mount on A-10 number 605.

The turbine blades inside the engine are mandated to be replaced when they are subjected to high temperatures for a set amount of time, Sergeant Wedemeyer said. There were also other "life-limited" parts that needed to be inspected and replaced.

"That's the only reason it's coming off," he said. "There was nothing wrong with the engine maintenance-wise."

After an overhaul, Engine 5036 will be re-installed on an A-10 somewhere in the Air Force and might even set a new longevity record in the future.