by Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
11/7/2013 – FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. — There’s no margin of error when lives are on the line making the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory here such an integral part of Fairchild Air Force Base’s mission.
“PMEL is responsible for calibrating equipment used in virtually every phase of maintenance for nearly every piece of equipment the Air Force operates,” said Barry Bigler, the 92nd Maintenance Squadron PMEL site manager and a Spokane, Wash., native. “We provide base-level support of aircraft, precision guided munitions, ground systems and other equipment assigned to the base or geographically separated units.”
These back shop warriors maintain, calibrate and certify test, measurement and diagnostic equipment in coordination with AF Primary Standards Laboratory, to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and other AF Metrology and Calibration-approved sources. The following areas are their primary focus: voltage, current, power, impedance, frequency, temperature, humidity, length, mass and radiation.
“The value of standards and calibration equipment here totals more than $10 million as we service 3,700 units locally while sustaining a 98 percent tool availability rate by a shop of seven,” Bigler said.
This tool availability rate tops the Air Force standard by 5 percent. The all-civilian shop not only services units from Fairchild, but also supports Navy units in Idaho and even other bases and units across the Department of Defense.
And as Air Force platforms get older, so does their calibration equipment.
“Many of our systems are 20 to 30 years old,” said Larry Loe, a 92nd MXS PMEL physical dimensions technician, who has worked here for more than 26 years both on active duty and as a civilian contractor calling Spokane his home. “Our jets [KC-135 Stratotankers] are quickly approaching more than 60 years old and still flying with systems requiring calibration equipment no longer manufactured making our mission very important.”
Just as people perform regular maintenance on their own car or truck, PMEL does this with their standards and calibration equipment to prolong equipment’s useful life effectively saving the Air Force millions of dollars. Loe said they maintain equipment by means of a science called metrology.
Metrology is the science of measurement and required to ensure Air Force systems are accurate and can reliably perform their designated missions. Every system in the Air Force inventory requires some type of accurate and reliable measurement to be made.
“PMEL is absolutely vital as properly calibrated tools are essential for us to complete our mission correctly,” said Airman 1st Class Marcel Acebo, a 92nd MXS crew chief and San Luis, Calif., native. “Without PMEL, there’s the grim potential for damage to not only the aircraft, but anyone working on and flying them as well.”
Prior to the 1950s, the Air Force had no formal, centralized calibration program. However, during this period of rapidly expanding technology, operational and testing accident rates increased dramatically and contractor conformance deteriorated. So in 1958, a project dubbed, “Test Shop,” was established directing that test equipment repair and calibration activities be established at Air Force bases worldwide eventually becoming what is now PMEL.
“What we do is very important for getting those tankers in the air,” Bidler said. “They can’t do what they do without us.”