The Science of Perfection

Michael Benko calibrates a digital oscilloscope while working in the Oscilloscope calibration area.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka)  (Released)

Michael Benko calibrates a digital oscilloscope while working in the Oscilloscope Calibration area. Mr. Benko is a civilian employee for the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka) (Released)

Kathy McConaghie troubleshoots an engine test set while working in the DC/Low Frequency area.  Ms. McConaghie is a civilian employee for the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka)  (Released)

Kathy McConaghie troubleshoots an engine test set while working in the DC/Low Frequency area. Ms. McConaghie is a civilian employee for the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka) (Released)

Jon Justin is troubleshooting a tactical air navigation test set while working in the Audio/Radio/Microwave Frequency calibration area.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka)  (Released)

Jon Justin is troubleshooting a tactical air navigation test set while working in the Audio/Radio/Microwave Frequency Calibration area. Mr. Justin is a civilian employee for the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka) (Released)

Thomas Cook calibrates a torque wrench while working in the Torque/Force calibration area.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka)  (Released)

Thomas Cook calibrates a torque wrench while working in the Torque/Force Calibration area. Mr. Cook is a civilian employee for the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka) (Released)

Chris Tvrdik performs a calibration on a digital pressure indicator using a high accuracy pressure standard while working in the Physical Dimensional calibration area.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka)  (Released)

Chris Tvrdik performs a calibration on a digital pressure indicator using a high accuaracy pressure standard while woking in the Physical Dimensional Calibration area. Mr. Tvrdik is a civilian employee for the Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory, 148th Fighter Wing, Duluth, Minn. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka) (Released)

Employees of the Duluth Air National Guard Regional Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory take time to pose for a group picture.  Please note that there are five employees missing from photo.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ralph J. Kapustka)  (Released)

Employees of the Duluth Air National Guard Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory take the time to pose for a group picture. Please note that there are five employees missing form the photo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt Ralph J. Kapustka) (Released)

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.