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US Air Force Faces Shortage of Fighter Jet Mechanics


The United States Air Force has a shortage of mechanics to provide support for its fighter airplanes.

VOA recently reported that the Air Force has 725 fighter pilots less than the 3,500 it is permitted to have. It is training about 135 more fighter pilots this year than in 2014. But it will be a long time before they are ready for action.

Pilots must train for years -- at a cost of millions of dollars -- before they have enough experience to fly fighter jets.

The fighter pilot shortage is happening at a time when private airline companies are adding pilots. Private airlines pay more and their pilots spend less time away from home.

Two Air Force generals told VOA that the military is still able to meet the demands for fighter jet support. But they added that unless more pilots choose a career in the Air Force, the service will soon be unable to meet the demands of top commanders. They warn that this could possibly affect both U.S. troops and civilians.

But even if the Air Force can train and keep jet fighter pilots, it must have enough mechanics to maintain the jets. And right now it has a shortage of more than 3,000 of these maintainers.

Mechanics at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in the state of Virginia have much work to do. They help keep F-22 Raptor jets flying. They also work on the T-38 Talon -- a jet that is about 50 years old and must often be repaired.

This Air Force fighter pilot says the mechanics work hard.

“Maybe once a day to once every other day we’ll bring back a jet that needs, has some kind of issue that needs to get fixed by our maintenance before it can get launched back up. So even at night when we’re not flying, they’re workin' on the planes and making sure that they’re ready to go for the next day.”

This senior airman is one of the mechanics.

“We all understand that the whole ‘(do) more with less’ is, is happening, but I mean it, regardless, jets have to fly. So we’re gonna make it happen, but yeah there's, there’s definitely pain in that process.”

Air Force Lieutenant General John Cooper works on ways to train and keep pilots and mechanics.

“We were livin', you know, on the edge with our maintainers for a long time, but we were able to accomplish the mission.”

Now, General Cooper says budget cuts have made his job much harder. But he says the Air Force has begun enlisting and training new fighter jet mechanics. And he says if the budget does not get smaller, the shortage will end in 2021.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb reported this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mechanic – n. a person who repairs machines (such as engines) and keeps them running properly

maintain – v. to keep (something) in good condition by making repairs, correcting problems, etc.

living on the edge – expression very close to something such as success or failure

accomplish – v. to succeed in doing (something)

mission – n. a specific military or naval task

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