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9 avril 2012 1 09 /04 /avril /2012 21:12


The maintenance of PLA Air Force J-8IIF fighter


2012-04-09 (China Military Article released by China-defense-mashup.com)


Early one winter's day in 2010, an aviation regiment was practicing rapid take-off and landing at a coastal airstrip in China. Suddenly, two aircraft scraped each other, forcing them to land for urgent repairs.


The word "urgent" has added weight in the air force. Getting an aircraft airborne again in the shortest possible time maintains a unit's combat capability. A repair team from the PLA Jinan Military Area Command rushed to the scene.


Following an emergency response plan, the team made a quick inspection, drew up a repair scheme, readied their tools and carried out the repairs. They found and mended damage to the air inlet's cowl lip and an antenna on the warning receiver of an omni-directional radar. The injured warbirds were soon back on the runway.


Gao Yincheng, leader of the aviation repair unit, says aircraft face more serious damage in modern warfare, so the air force with the best repair technology can multiply its combat capabilities. During the first week of the fourth Middle East War, the Israeli air force repaired 100 damaged aircraft to ensure that 96 percent of its fighter jets were operational. Without such repair capabilities, Israel would have totally lost its air combat capability on the eighth day of the war.


The work involves a re-design or re-production of damaged parts, mainly to sustain combat ability in the most economical and efficient way. It is much more complicated in peace than wartime. Song Yong, the unit's chief engineer, said emergency repairs in wartime simply restore individual capabilities of the aircraft so that it remains in service. In peacetime, it means a complete renovation, so the damaged parts are as strong as originally intended and training can continue.


But speed is always the top priority. The unit has drawn up official emergency repair and rescue schemes for damaged aircraft. It selects skilled personnel through theoretical and practical examinations and has four mobile repair shelters.


Random Damage


There is still a huge gap between China and other aviation powers like the United States and Israel in terms of aircraft repair technologies. To gain experience in planning repairs in combat conditions, the Chinese air force carried out a live-fire exercise for fighter jets and strike aircraft.


A huge blast began the exercise at 8 a.m., causing damage to various extents on aircraft sited around the explosion in various positions.


Lin Xianyuan, an engineer from the expert panel responsible for aviation repairs, ordered assessors, examiners and eight personnel to repair an aircraft with six "wounds," including damage to the skin, hydraulic lines in the landing gear and tailpipes.


Some units struggled to repair the severe damage using traditional methods, but Lin's team used advanced technologies like composite materials, cold welding and high-shear riveting, which allowed them to finish the job in quick time. The examination team gave them the top rating.


With such random damage on very different parts, highly-skilled technicians must treat all the wounds in different ways.


Personnel at the unit have thoroughly studied the structures and materials of all aircraft models in active service so as to master the technologies. Working with civil aviation departments and research institutes, they have adopted new concepts and technologies. They must remember the structures and materials of all aircraft and master the appropriate techniques and technologies.


The exercise prompted further research, and the unit invested 8 million yuan (about 1.25 million U.S. dollars) in new facilities at the training center and training programs, which helped create new repair schemes, involving manufacturing workshops, emergency repairs and technical support.


Under Pressure


With limited space and time, emergency repairs are usually carried out under hostile fire in the open without water and power. Emergency repair teams must be prepared to make sacrifices.


In the spring, China's eastern Shandong Province suffered its worst drought in 200 years, and one squadron was ordered to seed clouds. The evening before the operation, a transport aircraft was hit by a bird while landing, leaving a fist-sized pit in the front of the left wing.


As suitable meteorological conditions for making rain are very rare, the operation had to be on schedule. The repair unit sent a squad of five to the airport and they worked non-stop for 19 hours - from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. the next day - using more than 100 rivets to mend the damaged part.


Political Commissar Ding Jiyong says aircraft repair is a high pressure task during peace and war. Technicians must strictly observe operation times and get the aircraft back in the air no matter how exhausted they are.


The unit has introduced more advanced technologies to boost efficiency by working with professional institutes to develop a flexible evaluation system adaptable to all Chinese aircraft models. With information on parts, type and size of the damage, the system can provide the most suitable repair plan.


The best results are achieved through hard work. Since 2004, the unit has organized more than 50 emergency repair exercises in the open and without water and power supplies in various weathers and conditions. The drills are designed to meet the demands of future and actual combat. It has combined routine maintenance and repairs. In the same period, technicians have fixed more than 5,000 parts, repaired more than 10 aircraft and inspected more than 100 others. They ranked top in the combat emergency repair drills in 2005 and served in emergency operations such as the 2008 earthquake relief.


Despite their lack of actual combat experience, they are confident they can rise to the challenge of keeping China's warbirds flying in any future conflict.

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