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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Master Sgt. Marvin Spencer works on a A-10 C Thunderbolt II at the Fort Wayne Air National Guard base. 

  • Master Sgt. John Ryan stands in front of a wall that shows what would go in a survival kit for 122nd Fighter Wing pilots.

  • Master Sgt. Darin Hubble says the 122nd Fighter Wing takes calculated risks but doesn’t “do stupid.”

  • Master Sgt. Gregory Addison makes a delivery of mission capable parts.

  • A mannequin in the training room shows equipment that would be worn during a night mission requiring flying over water.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Master Sgt. Marvin Spencer works on the 810 C Thunderbolt 2 during a behind the scenes look at the 122nd Fighter Wing on Tuesday. VIDEO / GALLERY  

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Master Sergeant John Ryan puts together a hmit system (helmet mounted imagery targeting system) during a behind the scenes look at the 122nd Fighter Wing on Tuesday. VIDEO / GALLERY  

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette A display shows off night flying over water equipment in the training room during a behind the scenes look at the 122nd Fighter Wing on Tuesday. VIDEO / GALLERY

Saturday, March 11, 2017 10:02 pm

Being ready to take flight

Terri Richardson | The Journal Gazette

Master Sgt. Darin Hubble walks over to the fireplace mantel and takes down a model of the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

The model, in the 163rd Fighter Squadron heritage room in the communications building, is a miniature version of the plane airmen at the Air National Guard’s 122nd Fighter Wing in Fort Wayne maintain and fly on a daily basis.

Most of what people know about military pilots probably comes from the movies. After all, who can forget Maverick and Goose in "Top Gun"?

While that film duo had a "need for speed," one of the first things Hubble points out is that the big plane is not built for speed but rather close air support. In other words, "putting distance" between the good guys and the bad guys, Hubble says.

And the men and women at the base spend a lot of time training to make that happen, preparing for the day when they are called up for a mission or possible deployment. They have seen their fair share of those over the years.

But unlike the movies, the pilots on the base, near Fort Wayne International Airport, wouldn’t just jump in a plane and launch into the sky. It would take some effort to get ready.

If it was urgent, Hubble says a plane could be ready to be launched from start to finish in a half-hour. But that would be pushing it and probably altering some routine checks.

"We don’t do stupid," Hubble says. "Calculated risks … maybe."

There’s a lot that goes into readying for a mission. Maintenance technicians would ready the plane; ammo would be loaded; and of course, the pilots would have to be suited up according to where they are heading.

In one of the training rooms on base, mannequins in flight suits and gear hang from the ceiling by parachute cords. A giant parachute is stretched along the wall behind them. On another wall are vests surrounded by different items that would go into a pilot’s survival pack.

The pilots have different suits depending on where they may fly, such as a water suit, equipped with a water-activated flotation device around the neck, if they are flying over water and a chemical suit that is designed to protect against chemical warfare.

The vests include survival equipment such as medical items that are needed in case a pilot crashes and they have to self-treat or take cover and set up camp until help arrives.

And don’t forget the parachute. All said, the extra equipment can add about 100 pounds to what a pilot will have to manage.

And then there’s the helmet. Attached to it is a Helmet Mounted Imagery Targeting system. "It’s like a video game now in the helmet," Hubble says.

The system is designed to provide the pilot the ability to cue sensors or weapons and to designate targets with a high degree of accuracy by looking through a small monocle. It’s clear and looks like a piece of square plastic, until you look into it. Then it becomes a virtual reality, allowing the pilots to share real-time battlefield information to ground support. In addition, some helmets also have a camera that helps record what the pilot is seeing and doing.

But the pilots, which include 31 positions, aren’t the only ones on base.

There are 1,000 people at the 122nd. Of those, 300 are full-time airmen and 103 are active Guard or full-time militia. The rest serve on weekends once a month. Hubble says the base is currently hiring for all different positions.

On this day, Valentine’s Day, most of the 122nd’s pilots are in Arizona for training. But that doesn’t stop work from happening on base.

In one of the hangars, maintenance crews work on planes to get them ready for flight. In the armament room, which is where the weapons the planes use are stored, guns, bullets and shells – some big, bigger and much bigger – sit on tables and in different spaces around the room. The smell of grease hangs heavy in the air.

The planes on the base remain without ammo until they are deployed, according to Hubble. That’s where people like 1st Sgt. Alec Cawlfield come in. He’s an armament systems technician, who is responsible for making sure the explosive devices placed on the planes will do what they are supposed to do. So every bullet, shell and link is inspected and tested by him and others.

Cawlfield has been with the Air National Guard for 15 years. He says he joined because he wanted to serve.

That’s why many of the men and women are here. It is a job, but it’s also a chance for them to serve their country and protect it.

And while no one hopes for a deployment, if there is one, the 122nd will be ready.

trich@jg.net