Gerard Butler had the privilege of flying with the US Air Force Thunderbirds in a F-16 Aircraft.
MISAWA, Japan - As the throttle is pushed forward, a 15-foot burst of blue flame pours from the back of a 100,000 horsepower engine. Only 50 feet and a 6-inch line of red caution tape stand between you and the heart of one the most dangerous war machines in the world.
"It's an incredible power that shakes you down to the core," said Staff Sgt. Mitchell Morelos, 35th Maintenance Squadron. "It's an odd feeling ... really hard to explain."
Morelos is talking about a feeling he experiences every week as an engine test cell craftsman for U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons. He's been testing the engines for the past three years, and explained what lead him here.
"I saw an Air Force recruiting video that said something along the lines of, 'Join the Air Force, and you can do this,'" Morelos said. "This is the Air Force - we are airplanes. Of course I'm going to take the opportunity to work with jets."
Morelos' "office" - a warehouse-esque structure known as the "Hush House" because of its unique ability to muffle the deafening sound of engines -- supports one of the most important components of the 35th Fighter Wing's mission of Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses. It's one of only two test cells in the Air Force with its unique design and ability to host both an aircraft and its engine simultaneously by converging both the test cell and Hush House into one.
The test cell crew's career field is called aerospace propulsion, and their specialty is making jets fly. They average about one engine inspection every week, and test engines used in F-16s all over the world. Each engine is built and delivered to a back shop where the test cell pulls from to perform testing.
"We check the engine's parameters, core speeds, temperatures, vibrations - basically everything to make sure it's safe to fly," Morelos said.
The engine is placed on a massive stand and bolted to the ground, where the most in-depth, close-up look at an F-16 engine in full afterburner takes place. Morelos pushes a lever a few inches forward, resulting in an engine thrust up to 30,000 pounds that emits the loudest roar across the base.
"It's the best part of the job," smiled Morelos. "To control all that power is amazing; it's one of the most powerful machines on the planet."
Morelos is one of 11 airmen that make up the shop, and they work around the clock to carry their weight. The flurry of tests they perform can last days and even weeks, depending on what maintenance is necessary.
"Our goal is to catch any issue and have each engine ready to go before it reaches our flight line maintainers," said Senior Airman Joseph Martinez, 35 MXS. "It's imperative to have our end squared away so maintainers aren't spending too much time troubleshooting and making repairs."
Along with primarily serving Misawa Air Base, the test cell fully supports the F-16s of Osan and Kunsan Air Bases in Korea. They also perform tests for jets from Air Force bases in Alaska and most recently tested engines used at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
"If they lose an engine for whatever reason, it's more downtime for them," said Martinez. "It's important for us to support aircraft around the world to keep the mission moving."
Above all, Morelos said supporting the mission of the Wild Weasels here holds the most unique significance to him.
"At Misawa, we fly single-engine fighters, so it's a special opportunity," Morelos said. "That one pilot is putting his or her life on the line to keep the rest of us alive. It means everything to us to know that we're the reason those jets are in the air."
Video Description Credit: Senior Airman Derek Vanhorn
Video Credits: Senior Airman Rachel Maxwell, Senior Airman Aaron Hauser, Staff Sgt. Anthony Kuhn, William Lewis, Airman 1st Class Rebecca Long, Tech. Sgt. Colleen Urban and Master Sgt. David Loeffler
Video Thumbnail Credit: U.S. Navy Photographer, MC3 Karolina A. Oseguera Modified by ArmedForcesUpdate