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, 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 Air Force
Primary Standards Laboratory, to the National Institute of Standards and
Technology and other Air Force Metrology and Calibration-approved
sources. The following areas are their primary focus: voltage, current,
power, impedance, frequency, temperature, humidity, length, mass and
"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, 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 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."