Maintenance Airmen work together to bring Global Hawk back to the fight

Airmen from the 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit hoist an engine into an RQ-4 Global Hawk Jan. 25, 2018, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The RQ-4 and 12th AMU Airmen recently returned to Beale after a major refurbishment was performed. The Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Wesley Sullivan)

An RQ-4 Global Hawk sits in a hangar after repairs were performed Jan. 25, 2018, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The RQ-4 and 12th AMU Airmen recently returned to Beale after a major refurbishment was performed. The Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Wesley Sullivan)

Airmen from the 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit install an intake onto an RQ-4 Global Hawk Jan. 25, 2018, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The RQ-4 and 12th AMU Airmen recently returned to Beale after a major refurbishment was performed. The Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Wesley Sullivan)

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In August of 2016 an RQ-4 Global Hawk from Beale suffered a catastrophic fault in its oil system during a mission. The aircrew acted decisively to safely remotely-pilot the aircraft to Edwards Air Force Base, California. Last month, a group of maintenance Airmen from the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 12th Aircraft Maintenance Unit were sent to Edwards to repair the aircraft.

The team recently returned with the RQ-4 ready to be a part of the mission once again. They put in over 800 hours repairing the Global Hawk and going through diagnostic work to assure that it is once again ready to provide high altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“It had a fuel fault inflight, and while that was happening the software inside the mission computer started shutting off heat exchangers and the oil in the engine was not being cooled,” said Master Sgt. Wesley Sullivan, 9th AMXS production superintendent. “Over the course of the mission the generator overheated from the oil temperature and exploded, which led to the emergency landing at Edwards.”

The project proved to be a large endeavor and required a skilled team of Airmen to accomplish.

“We had a team of eight Airmen from the 9th AMXS that went down to Edwards and spent three weeks working on the aircraft. It was a very large undertaking that required a variety of skill sets to achieve,” said Tech Sgt. Farris Clark, 9th AMXS avionics technician. “The team had to do extensive structural repairs throughout the aircraft that included an engine change and installation of a generator, along with a lot of body work.”

Being geographically separated from Beale posed unique challenges, but it proved to be a worthwhile learning experience.

“Having to coordinate between two bases for parts and logistical support was challenging,” said Clark. “Maintenance-wise there is no individual task we had not performed before, but the combined scope of the refurbishment was a new experience for the group.”

Despite the unique environment and time and resource constraints the Airmen persevered.

“Our guys rolled with it. Every time a problem came up, they were quick to come up with a way forward.  We planned for the rebuild to take three weeks and we accomplished the actual maintenance in nine days. The remaining time was spent doing flight line testing and trying to schedule the launch home,” said Sullivan. “Overall these guys killed it. They did great everyday just jobbing from the time we got there until we headed home.”

Sullivan reflected on the sense of accomplishment felt by the Airmen in being able to successfully finish such a large undertaking.

“Being able to launch the jet back as a team was very satisfying, as was knowing we were able to add it back to the fleet and get it back to the mission,” said Sullivan.