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Columbus AFB mechanics go full throttle ahead in light of COVID-19

Willy Latham, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, gathers tools in order to perform maintenance on a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-38 Talon is equipped with two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Willy Latham, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, gathers tools in order to perform maintenance on a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-38 Talon is equipped with two General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Willy Latham, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, inspects a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine, designed for a T-38 Talon April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-38 is a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer used in a variety of roles because of its design, economy of operations, ease of maintenance, high performance and exceptional safety record. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Willy Latham, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, inspects a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine, designed for a T-38 Talon April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. The T-38 is a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer used in a variety of roles because of its design, economy of operations, ease of maintenance, high performance and exceptional safety record. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Willy Latham, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, inspects a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. On an aerospace vehicle, the propulsion system creates thrust by accelerating a gas, or "working fluid”. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Willy Latham, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, inspects a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. On an aerospace vehicle, the propulsion system creates thrust by accelerating a gas, or "working fluid”. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Frank Hall, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, performs maintenance on a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Propulsion means to push or drive an object forward, and these engines help power the wing’s T-38 Talons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Frank Hall, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, performs maintenance on a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Propulsion means to push or drive an object forward, and these engines help power the wing’s T-38 Talons. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Rodney Williams, M1 Support Services lead propulsion mechanic, teleworks with a co-worker April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. According to the CDC, individuals should practice social distancing by teleworking as much as possible. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Rodney Williams, M1 Support Services lead propulsion mechanic, teleworks with a co-worker April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. According to the CDC, individuals should practice social distancing by teleworking as much as possible. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Diane Betts, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, preps a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine for transport April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Propulsion mechanics at Columbus AFB are responsible for keeping General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines in pristine condition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

Diane Betts, M1 Support Services propulsion mechanic, preps a General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine for transport April 17, 2020, at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. Propulsion mechanics at Columbus AFB are responsible for keeping General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engines in pristine condition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Davis Donaldson)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

Propulsion mechanics at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, responsible for keeping engines designed for the T-38 Talon in pristine condition, are being counted on to ensure the Air Forces’s pilot training pipeline requirements continue in light of the COVID-19 virus.

Rodney Williams, M1 Support Services lead propulsion mechanic, said propulsion is a supporting factor of pilot training and his team is essential in making sure the 14th Flying Training Wing continues its primary mission.

“It’s important for us to keep working because they’re still training pilots,” Williams said. “Since the training is still going on, they still need airplanes to fly, so they still need engines in good condition for the airplanes.”

The shop is responsible for helping maintain the nearly 90 T-38s in the wing’s inventory, used for Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training and Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals.

The T-38 is a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer which utilizes the General Electric J85-GE-5 turbojet engine.

Williams said they are continuing to maintain engines by following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and 14th FTW base leadership.

According to the CDC, individuals should practice social distancing by maintaining a 6-foot distance from one another and telework as much as possible. They also say workers should wear face masks and spray disinfectant on surfaces daily.

“With COVID-19, we are spraying things with bleach water, Lysol and changing our gloves more often,” Williams said. “We’re also distancing ourselves more by using phone calls, not letting people be in the same place at the same time. It’s not really slowing us down it’s just another step in the process.”

Christopher Story, M1 Support Services senior propulsion mechanic, said because there are less mechanics than a typical-sized shop, distancing themselves is not difficult.

“There’s only (a few) of us, basically, here at the engine shop, so it’s easier,” Story said. “We’re doing our part to distance ourselves from one another while we’re working. Not much has changed, we’re just trying to keep clean and keep away from people.”

Story said the shop is still able get the job done and being the senior engine mechanic allows him to supervise and make sure work is done in a timely manner.

“The work I do these days require me to oversee in the shop, complete all the paper work for maintenance performed on the engine and make sure the parts are ordered and ready for replacement,” he said. “I also see that the job is being done properly and in a timely manner by my crew.”

Story said the propulsion shop must stay clean because he says their job is significant in spite of the pandemic.

“We have to keep planes flying,” he said. “We have to keep engines going, so they can keep jets going and then the Air Force can keep flying them. We have to be full throttle ahead.”

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