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No-notice inspection no problem for Det. 1

Detachment 1, 125th Fighter Wing shield

Detachment 1, 125th Fighter Wing shield

HOMESTEAD ARB, Fla. -- Detachment 1, 125th Fighter Wing, was primed and ready for a June 7, 2007, no-notice Alert Force Evaluation (AFE) inspection, which garnered them an overall outstanding rating. 

"Generally all (AFE inspections) are no notice and are conducted on an 18-month cycle," said Canadian Lieutenant Col. Michael J. Barrett, Director of Inspections, NORAD Inspector General. 

During an AFE, they look for how the unit performs in accordance with directives, guidance and expectations for the mission they are assigned, he said. 

The scramble order occurred at 7:42 a.m., and both of the alert F-15 Eagles were airborne within the Combined Forces Air Combatant Commander's tailored response time for the location, said Major Cory "Trap" Bower, who was the detachment's lead for the AFE. 

That's when the challenges began. One of the prime aircraft failed to start. 

"I attempted to start the jet. Its jet fuel starter system malfunctioned, so I moved to the spare next door. Maintenance did an outstanding job right away. They pressed with it and were successful, said Major Brian 'Banzai' Bell, who was the wingman during the initial scramble. 

"The Inspector General said his initial thought was that we were extremely late getting started, because he thought it was the first jet. When he found out it was the spare, he did a complete 180," Maj. Bell said. 

Their challenges continued at takeoff when the flight lead, Capt. Jackson "Boz" Whiting, hit a bird with his F-15 and immediately declared an airborne emergency.  He was surprised just as he got airborne, Captain Whiting said. 

"I was rotating and raising the gear when I hit a flock of birds," he said. 

After the bird strike to his aircraft, he (Captain Whiting) deselected the after burner, which slows the aircraft down, Maj. Bell said. 

"That was a surprise to me because we had briefed that we were going to get there (to the Target of Interest) as fast as possible," he added. 

Maj. Bell slowed down and checked the lead aircraft to determine that it was good to return to base. He then became the flight lead because he was the only other aircraft flying at the time to continue the mission. 

Lieutenant Col. Michael "Orville" Birkeland, the detachment's operations supervisor, made a decision as soon as he heard about the lead's bird strike to scramble a spare pilot and jet just in case the lead had to return to base.  As it turned out, it was a good decision. Soon the new wingman, Maj. Bower, and his "Eagle" caught up with Maj. Bell. 

"I think a wingman is vital (to the mission) because, tactically, we have to coordinate everything over the radio. It's good to have a wingman to help monitor the situation," said Maj. Bell. 

Because of the bird strike, Captain Whiting burned down some of his fuel, and spent 10 to 15 minutes dumping the rest. He then returned to base, landed, taxied, and shut down with just enough time to help maintenance personnel before the other pilots were already coming back from the mission, he said. 

Exceptional program management by the maintainers directly enhanced overall unit effectiveness during the AFE, according to the inspection report. It goes on to state that despite losing two alert aircraft early in the mission (no start and bird strike), the aggressive actions taken by alert maintenance personnel resulted in two aircraft becoming airborne in minimum time to accomplish the assigned mission. 

Detachment members spent numerous months upgrading the facility and revamping internal and external programs just prior to the surprise inspection. Repairs were made to the aircraft parking ramp, facility carpeting was replaced, new tools and Consolidated Took Kits were received, the Associated Ground Equipment shop floor was resurfaced, and the kitchen was renovated. 

In addition to the facility upgrades, the training program, Operations Instructions, and Maintenance Standardization and Evaluation Program were revamped, according to Maj. Bower. 

The detachment's performance earned them a higher overall rating than the rating criteria from the Headquarters NORAD Inspector General Chief to more accurately reflect that observed performance, the inspection report read. 

No notice. No problem.

(Maj. Cory W. Bower contributed to this story)