JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska —
From torque wrenches and spectrum analyzers to pressure gauges and missile guidance control systems, the 3rd Maintenance Squadron precision measurement equipment laboratory supports approximately 18,000 different articles of equipment for nearly 300 different agencies on and off Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
Technicians from the 3rd MXS PMEL can calibrate and repair Test Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment to accuracies ranging from millionths of an inch to microvolts, depending on the measurement area. They do so with four criteria in mind: accuracy, reliability, traceability and safety.
“We can weigh your signature,” said Zachary Dunn, 3rd MXS PMEL lead quality assurance inspector. “We’ve got scales that can register that small amount of ink on the paper and quantify it. Whether it’s plus or minus a pound or a fraction of a gram, we’ve got unbelievable standards. We’re more precise than most people need or realize, but due to the precision of some of the airframes out there, it’s a necessity.”
Any time a piece of equipment or machinery is used, there are an infinite number of things that need to work perfectly. Responsible for calibrating equipment used in virtually every phase of maintenance, PMEL specialists ensure every piece of equipment is in precise working order. These experts must utilize exacting attention to detail as they take measurements in increments as small as millionths to ensure accuracy and safety for user operations.
These technicians of precision sustain both Army and Air Force agencies at JBER and Eielson Air Force Base as well as Coast Guard, Bureau of Land Management and various other agencies throughout Alaska.
“Everything that we do here is going to provide the war fighter with what he or she needs,” said Robert Hegner, 3rd MXS PMEL site manager. “I’m here to make sure the Air Force can fly the airplanes and put bombs on target. The very systems we calibrate maintain accuracy and traceability for those systems so the war-fighters can use them on the jets or avionics systems. We make sure they’re accurate and traceable, safe and reliable and can be used to complete the Air Force mission.”
A retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, Hegner has 34 years of experience in the career field and has been working at JBER’s PMEL shop for 22 years.
“Technology is always changing, so you’re always adapting and evolving,” Hegner said. “As new equipment comes into the field, you don’t always have everything in place to use that right away. So we rely on our experience and our expertise to be able to test those newer pieces of gear based on what standard we have available.”
The Air Force Metrology and Calibration Program establishes all measurements performed by any PMEL technician is traceable to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The traceability chain functions as an echelon with NIST at the top, down to base-level standards at the PMEL. The standards used in each calibration are documented. This record, combined with procedural guidance, establishes the chain.
While there are strict guidelines to follow, critical thinking and problem-solving are a must.
“We’re constantly analyzing our processes and procedures to make sure we’re making safe, accurate, reliable, traceable measurements – that’s the end goal,” said Hegner. “Get the equipment back to the customers as quickly as we can and make sure the customer has a safe, accurate, reliable, traceable piece of gear, so that he can do his job.”
Though the JBER PMEL is a contract-operated lab composed of civilian contractors, most are prior military who have completed more than a year of training at an Air Force PMEL technical school. Hegner says the Air Force is pretty much the standard for PMEL tech training.
“I’ve got a bunch of really dedicated folks, really good folks with a high level of experience,” said Hegner. “We’re all contractors, but we’ve all worn the uniform at one time or another. The general deal is we’re going to do whatever we can to make sure the customer has their gear, can fly their planes and can drop their bombs. That’s our focus.”
The dedication and attention to detail these technicians have has resulted in a 98 percent sustained equipment availability rate - six percent above the mandated Air Force standard. This means out of the approximately 18,000 pieces of equipment they calibrate, 17,640 are available because of their comprehensive and meticulous labor.