Seymour Johnson: The source of F-15 airpower - Part 1
By Airman Shawna L. Keyes, 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 03, 2015
SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- [Editor's note: This feature is the first of a three-part series focusing on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's ability to train both the Airmen who fly and the Airmen who maintain the F-15, thereby sourcing the Air Force's F-15 airpower.]
Seymour Johnson Air Force Base hosts the largest force of F-15E Strike Eagle airpower on the planet.
Not only are there two operational Strike Eagle squadrons at Seymour Johnson AFB, the base also hosts two formal training squadrons that pilots must attend in order to fly the F-15E: the 333rd and 334th Fighter Squadrons.
But while the pilots toil away, learning the ins and outs of the Strike Eagle's capabilities and systems, there's another group of Airmen learning about the F-15 who are equally vital to the aircraft and the airpower it provides.
Every F-15 at Seymour Johnson AFB has the names of three people on it, the pilot's, the weapons systems officer's, and the crew chief's in charge of making sure the plane is ready to fly at a moment's notice. Crew chiefs are responsible for ensuring everything from tip to tail is maintained to the most exacting standards. At the end of the day, the integrity of the jet and the safety of the crewmembers inside rests on the shoulders of the crew chief.
All F-15 crew chiefs in the Air Force must complete the J3 course at Seymour Johnson AFB's 372nd Training Squadron Det. 1 before becoming operational. J3 students are crew chiefs in the technical school pipeline, receiving hands-on technical training on the F-15. Det. 1 also hosts the J4 course. J4 students already have operational experience on the flightline. They come to Seymour Johnson to receive more advanced training.
The J3 course is 150 hours long and is the last training the students will receive before going to their respective duty stations. During the course, Airmen are taught how to launch and recover aircraft and conduct pre and post-flight inspections on the aircraft. Each year, instructors conduct approximately 40 courses with more than 250 students attending.
"I love training," said Airman 1st Class Wyatt Williams, 372nd TRS Det. 1 J3 student. "Training is really fun for me because it's hands-on here. The most challenging part is paying attention to everything. But attention to detail is important when working on these jets cause that's two lives you've got on your hands."
According to Master Sgt. Richard Growney, 372nd TRS Det. 1 production supervisor, the J3 class sizes are kept small, ranging from two to eight Airmen, so instructors are able to have more one-on-one training with each student.
"With small class sizes, instructors are able to slow down with each student so they can learn good working habits to use on the flightline, such as attention to detail," Growney said.
The J4 training has more than 40 courses offered to nine different specialty codes, such as avionics, crew chiefs, engines, and weapons. Over the course of a year, J4 instructors conduct more than 300 courses with more than 1,000 students.
Small class sizes are also mirrored on the J4 side, putting further emphasis on the attention to detail that's needed on the flightline. According to Growney, having that one-on-one with the students in both J3 and J4 is imperative to making sure the topics being taught are understood by each and every student before moving on.
"The instructors carefully walk us through our technical orders," said Airman 1st Class Brandon Rogers, a J4 student out of the 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. "As a maintainer, the technical order is what you live by, and the instructors show you where everything is and how to locate something if you don't know."
Growney says the best part of his job is when he's in the classroom and he sees the head nods and the smiles indicating the students understand the material.
"It's also afterward when you go back down to the shop and they say, 'I remember when you taught me this and I'm actually applying it on the aircraft,'" Growney added.
Rogers, who's been on the flightline for about 10 months, says it's impossible to overstate the importance of attention to detail on the line.
"You're putting someone else's life in your hands," he said. "If a life is lost, you can't explain that to someone's family that you didn't pay attention to detail."