The ground trembles. As an unbearable roaring rends the air, I fight a strong urge to drop my camera and use my hands as extra noise-cancellers. Full throttle: exerting an incredible amount of power, the Eurofighter strains against inch-thick steel cables. Fortunately, the line is firmly anchored to the ground. The cockpit is occupied not by a pilot but by Chief Technician Norman G., an aircraft mechanic specialising in Eurofighters. He and four of his colleagues are testing the newly installed engine.

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(© Luftwaffe/Philippe Stupp)
One of the Eurofighters needs to have a powerful turbofan engine replaced – a routine job for the five-strong team Norman works in. The mechanics take turns doing the various tasks, to make sure they all stay sharp in each of the different areas of the jet’s technology. This time, Chief Technician Norman is operating one of the two miniature lifts that raise the replacement engine to wing level. Two others sit on rotating seats underneath the engine and bring it into alignment. “In aircraft mechanics, you need at least five people to do the job properly. Repairs like this engine replacement would be impossible with a smaller team. The lads here are basically responsible for all mechanical work on the Eurofighter,” says First Lieutenant Maria S., who is the head of this unit. In no more than 30 minutes, the new model has been installed – but it is followed by stagnation for the time being, as the troops now have to wait for the right weather conditions before they can finish testing it: an outside temperature of more than three degrees and visibility of at least 1600 metres
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(© Luftwaffe/Philipp Kloß)

“Feathered friends” large and small

The 31year-old Norman had to take a range of training courses before he could take charge of the engine test. In his quest to gain the additional qualification he needed to conduct the test, the last course alone took six weeks. A native of Eisleben in eastern Germany, he has been employed by the Bundeswehr since 2006. Over the course of 21 months, he was first trained as an aircraft mechanic by the company Eurocopter, after which he worked on the F4 Phantom jet. “But when the Phantom was taken out of service, I took the chance to retrain,” he says. This meant a seven-month specialist programme to become a Eurofighter mechanic. Norman’s mechanical aptitude becomes unavoidably clear when he talked about his hobby. He owns no fewer than five Simson KR51s, the vintage GDR mopeds popularly known as “Schwalben” – German for swallows. He is only too happy when left to tinker with his nostalgically prized possessions. The little swallow’s one-cylinder two-stroke engine bears no comparison to the powerful, complex EJ200 engine of the much larger birds he works with in the Eurofighter unit – but Norman finds the mechanical work is no less fun.

To the testing area and off we go!

The Eurofighter is hauled to the testing area outside the maintenance hangar. The mechanics fasten the carbines on the end of thick steel cables to an arrester-hook restraint. Norman is clearly enjoying himself. The team are about to find out whether the new engine has been installed correctly in every respect. Using a data-storage device slightly larger than a packet of tissues, they first configure the engine. “While the aircraft is prepared for the test, we inspect the intake shaft and other things like the level of fluids that will be used,” says the aeronautics expert. Then, he has a chance to sit in the cockpit of the jet himself, where he checks the positions of all the relevant switches before the engine test starts.

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(© Luftwaffe/Philipp Kloß)

Ear-splitting noise followed by grey smoke

The Engine Acceptance Run, as the test is known, begins: “We are checking here whether certain parameters have been fulfilled,” Norman explains. This includes measuring the engine speed in relation to the high temperatures. It is now impossible to stay in the vicinity of the jet without protection for your ears; the din is deafening. Strong vibrations emanate from the aircraft, so everyone has to wear special broad elastic belts, rather like kidney belts, to counteract the effects. Thick grey smoke pours out at the back of the Eurofighter. The new engine has apparently been in storage for some time. While this is happening, Norman and his team-mates conduct constant quality control and check for defects. The afterburner is activated, giving the engine an extra boost. The steel cables are under great tension, and it looks as if the restraint might be torn out of the ground at any moment. Finally, Norman slowly pushes back the thrust level, as the throttle is more properly known. After several minutes of noise, the test is over for now. “All perfect,” says Norman, sounding satisfied. The data-storage unit has recorded the results. The final stage of the inspection is to upload and evaluate the data on a computer. Then Norman and his team will know whether they can pat each other on the back for a job well done.

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(© Luftwaffe/Philippe Stupp)

This is the translation of an article by Philipp Kloß published on www.luftwaffe.de

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