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PUTTING FLIGHT SAFETY NO. 1 IRAQI PATROL PLANES GET OVERHAUL AMERICAN-BUILT KIT AIRCRAFT RESOLD BY UNITED ARAB EMIRATES MODIFIED.

Byline: Daily News

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE -- Edwards Air Force Base personnel have gone to Iraq and back to help test and rebuild Iraqi Air Force planes, aiming to make them safer to fly after a crash that killed an Iraqi and four Americans.

The planes are an American kit-built aircraft, the six-seater Comp Air 7SLX, given to Iraq by the United Arab Emirates and heavily modified from the factory specifications.

``This is just our version of `Overhaulin,''' said Tech. Sgt. Rick Fujimoto, referring to the television show. ``We took this (aircraft) down to what looked like a Volkswagen bug shell and built it from the bottom all the way back up. We'll do it again in theater -- four times over.''

The planes had been purchased by the United Arab Emirates from the Florida manufacturer, AeroComp. The unarmed planes are meant to patrol the oil pipelines and other infrastructure targeted by insurgents.

``Bottom line, we are making these aircraft safer to fly,'' said Lt. Col. Michael Pelletier, 412th Maintenance Group deputy commander and Iraqi Comp Air Project team lead.

A combined team from Edwards, Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma has stripped down and rebuilt one Comp Air 7SLX, which had its first test flight at Edwards in April.

Edwards' Air Force Flight Test Center sent a six-man team consisting of maintainers, flight test engineers and test pilots in October to Kirkuk Air Base in Iraq to begin initial flight tests.

The team returned to Edwards with recommendations about repairs and modifications to improve flying qualities and overall maintenance condition, Pelletier said.

In January, a 20-person test team was assembled at Edwards to implement the recommendations.

``The test team's job is to totally disassemble one of the aircraft at Edwards, make repairs as necessary, take out some of the postproduction mods to return the aircraft to its original factory configuration and build up four kits for the remaining aircraft,'' Pelletier said.

Edwards personnel had to do some rapid training in Merritt Island, Fla., with the manufacturer to become familiar with the plane and learn how to tackle composite repairs on a kit-built aircraft -- things that most U.S. Air Force technicians don't get a chance to do.

Following the Florida training, one of the Iraqi Comp Air planes was shipped to Edwards.

``When the plane arrived it was wingless and would not even run,'' said Chief Master Sgt. William Ludwig of the 412th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. ``There had been countless modifications to the aircraft, which made it necessary for the team to bring it back to factory specifications.''

Nose gear, flight controls, wiring and fuel tank locations all had been changed, said Fujimoto, who is assigned to the 653rd Combat Logistic Support Squadron at Robins Air Force Base and is one of four crew chiefs on the project.

``The fabrication is unbelievable,'' Fujimoto said. ``The best person for this job would probably be a surfboard builder. There is a lot of time-consuming fiberglass work, but I've got four sheet metal guys who, with a four-day crash course and the ability to draw from their varied experience on different aircraft, came together and there's nothing they can't do.''

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

An Iraqi Air Force Comp Air 7SLX returns from a flight test in April. The planes came to Iraq from the United Arab Emirates and were heavily modified.

U.S. Air Force
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 16, 2006
Words:576
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