The Science of Perfection
By Tech. Sgt. Scott G. Herrington, 148th Fighter Wing
/ Published January 11, 2011
DULUTH, Minn. -- The Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory (PMEL) in Duluth, Minn. tests and calibrates the equipment necessary for the 148th Fighter wing to fly, fight and win.
Responsible for supporting more than 14,000 items, 26 civilian Federal Civil Service employees calibrate a wide variety of equipment. The laboratory works on F-16 Fighting Falcon bore sight fixtures and air speed altimeter test sets as well as torque wrenches, pressure gauges, and aircraft refueling gauges used by aircraft maintainers which comprise only a fraction of the total equipment that PMEL employees maintain.
To verify Air Force PMEL's maintain the highest metrology (the science of measurement) standards they are inspected every two years by the Air Force Metrology and Calibration Program Office (AFMETCAL). In addition, each PMEL has an internal quality program where Quality Evaluators verify Lab Technicians are adhering to Air Force policies and metrology practices.
The 1967 mishap aboard the USS Forrestal illustrates the need for PMEL. In the mishap, a missile from a plane on the ship's deck fired, and Lieutenant Commander McCain's plane (now Senator McCain) was struck during takeoff preparations. During the resulting explosion, 134 sailors died. This accident has been recorded as the worst non-combat related accident in American Naval history.
A contributing factor to this mishap was determined to be the use of an uncertified Preload Armament Tester--a $1,271 piece of test equipment that is still used today. If it had been certified, as required today, it could have saved the lives of 134 sailors, prevented the need for $74 million in carrier repairs, and the loss of 21 F-4 Phantoms at $18.5 million each. The 148th Fighter Wing PMEL currently supports 30 of these devices, which PMEL refers to as "a beer can."
Since 1962, PMEL has been located in Duluth, Minn., and continues to provide accurate, high quality service to more than 25 military units of varied services across the country. PMEL's function is vital to many aspects of base operations at the 148th Fighter Wing--from pilots relying on their instruments in landing on the runway, to mechanics using meticulously calibrated tools--the accuracy provided by PMEL enables the wing to confidently carry out its mission.