NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — As a 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon specialist flight expediter, Tech. Sgt. Dennis Hertlein manages the avionics, electro-environmental and propulsions systems in the aircraft.
Hertlein, however, is not your average specialist flight expediter — his expertise has saved the Air Force $5 million.
Hertlein worked with modification teams to complete modifications and upgrades to Nellis Air Force Base’s F-16 fleet locally, rather than having to send them off to a depot, decreasing cost and increasing aircraft availability.
At Nellis AFB, Hertlein helped upgrade five F-16s with an advanced electronic countermeasure system. Hertlein also aided in developing the Tulsa Air National Guard’s identification-friend-or-foe system upgrade and helped identify an engineering error during electronic warfare management system modifications on 22 Ohio Air National Guard F-16s.
“I went TDY out to Toledo, Ohio, to see how the Ohio Air National Guard performed their upgrades and use the lessons learned for our upgrades here,” said Hertlein. “The Tulsa ANG came here TDY to assist us with our upgrades. We worked with their personnel to ensure that our modifications went smoothly.
“Each aircraft was given four weeks to upgrade systems,” said Hertlein. “We were taking three separate systems that are already in place on the aircraft and combining them into one. Several areas of the jet had to be completely stripped down to no parts.”
After the upgrade, the threat warning, jamming and electronic countermeasures are still three separate systems, but now have one centralized control. Hertlein said threat detection was increased by 80 percent, due to the easier user interface that one centralized control brings. The identification friend or foe allows the aircraft to see other friendly aircraft or threats in the sky to help eliminate blue-on-blue, or friendly-on-friendly engagements.
“We worked hand-in-hand with engineers from Hill AFB while modifying the jets,” said Hertlein. “While going over wiring schematics, we noticed that two wires were going to interfere with an upcoming upgrade, and it needed to get sorted out.”
Hertlein’s attention to detail prevented future system failures stemming from the interference caused by the wires.
Although important, Hertlein insists he was just doing his job.
“The upgrades come in a packet that tells us what to do,” he said. “The engineers will do it on one jet, then they give us instructions on how to do it. A lot of it is just learned over time through experience and working with it constantly.”
Hertlein’s former supervisor, Master Sgt. Maximilliano Heredia, 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit production superintendent, would be one of the first to tell you how great it is to have Airmen like Hertlein working on the line every day.
“He didn’t need too much encouragement,” said Heredia. “You have to know your people’s strengths and weaknesses. I knew he would be perfect for the job. The entire documentation of the modification was error free, from aircraft forms to the maintenance databases.”
“He’s a hard-driven NCO who drives his Airmen as hard as he drives himself to get the mission done,” Heredia said. “His attention to detail and technical expertise is what sets him apart from his peers.”
Heredia also said he encourages Airmen with potentially great ideas to not be afraid to come forward with them and to chase their ideas down, just as Hertlein has done.