Delicate electronics create massive firepower

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- The B-2 Spirit is the most feared weapons system on the planet, but it would not be if not for the 509th Maintenance Squadron avionics back shop team.

The avionics team works around the clock repairing equipment to ensure the B-2's internal system maintains the capabilities needed to perform mission-essential tasks.

"We test any and everything the maintainers bring to us," said Staff Sgt. Reagan Dunagan, 509th MXS avionics back shop team leader. "They will pull a little black box out of a plane, give it us and we see what's wrong with it. We discover why the plane is not working properly and we send it to the supply shop. Whenever they need a new box, they directly contact supply to get it."

Once the maintainers pull the box from the B-2, it takes up to two days for the avionics team to receive it. Upon delivery, they will test it for any failures. If any are found, avionics techs will perform repairs until the issue in question is fully resolved. Any parts that do not fail are returned to the flightline and the maintainers will have to troubleshoot the aircraft to find the issue.

The work of the avionics back shop team is incredibly detailed and involves a high level of technical proficiency.

"We repair line replacement units (LRUs) and circuit card assemblies (CCAs) that come from the B-2," said Airman 1st Class Michael Touchette, 509th Maintenance Squadron B-2 Avionics back shop team member. "We also isolate and repair malfunctions using our test stations and calibrate our test systems every 180 days to ensure they are able to tolerate any damage. If they were out of tolerance, it would cause them to fail. We also build and repair triaxial cables, coaxial cables and cannon plugs."

Test stations are used to test any electronic equipment that allows the B-2 to fly, including the flight control computer or the fuel control relay panel.

Touchette added that the triaxial cables (three slots) and the coaxial cables (two slots) are used as an interface for test stations to assist with communication between adaptors and line replaceable units, depending on how well the signals are being transferred through the cables.

The test stations are unique to Whiteman and are specifically designed to test the B-s, which are worth roughly $1.5 million each, said Dunagan.

The avionics team also gets parts such as the pilot's stick grip, which allows the pilots to maneuver and make minor adjustments to their flight, said Dunagan. There is only one or two in supply at all times, so if more than two stick shifts break at once, then there will be a downed jet because there are not enough parts. As long as the avionics shop constantly produces the parts, then the B-2's flight will continue.

There are many hazards associated with working in an avionics shop, including electrical, chemical and noise threats, said Dunagan.

"There are electrical hazards because we operate with systems that have a voltage high enough to cause death if we are not careful," he said. "Chemicals can be absorbed into the skin and through inhalation, causing internal damage and possibly death. Noise hazards from loud machinery could cause permanent loss of hearing. Because of these potential hazards, we follow all safety guidelines to prevent injury or death."

Despite daily hazards, Touchette said his passion for the job stays strong day in and day out.

"I really enjoy my job," he said. "I get enjoyment out of troubleshooting line replacement units and fixing aircrafts parts. All the things that go on behind the scenes are what keep the B-2 in the air."