Saturday, November 22, 2008

Juggling act: Maintenance and operations groups cooperate to complete A-10 inspections

by Tech. Sgt. Leo Brown
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/20/2008 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Citizen Airmen in the maintenance and operations groups are becoming professional jugglers these days.

Complying with an Air Force-issued time-compliance technical order from early October, the 442nd Maintenance Group is inspecting and repairing fatigue-related wing cracks in 11 of the unit's 27 A-10s. Most of the affected aircraft have "thin-skin" wings, installed during original manufacture.

Throughout the Air Force, roughly 130 A-10s are affected by the order. While there is no firm date for when the inspections will be completed, immediate demands are never-ending.

With pilots' mandatory combat currencies and aircraft phase inspections - done every 500 flying hours - needing to be met, the demand for cooperation between the maintenance and operations communities has never been higher. Reservists in the 442nd, however, are meeting that challenge.

"Operations and maintenance work together so well in the 442nd Fighter Wing," said Col. John Hoff, 442nd Operations Group commander. "There's no issue we can't work out. I've been here over 15 years and I think it's the best relationship in the combat Air Force. There's give and take on both sides and everyone wins in the end."

"Operations gives us their requirements - their types of missions - and we tell them how many aircraft we have available," said Tech. Sgt. Melissa Alexander, aircraft maintenance scheduler with the 442nd Maintenance Operations Flight. "You never fly more than half your fleet and ops has been working with us to cut back what they can.

"We've lost a couple sorties here and there," she said. "Things happen. They're old aircraft, but we're juggling everything and still maintaining what we need to. We don't want all the aircraft coming in for phase (inspections) at once. The biggest thing is the crew chiefs and the sheet-metal guys and the R and R (repair and reclamation) guys - they're making the mission happen. Everyone's taking pride in what we're doing."

Simply creating the opportunity to assess the severity of a crack can be quite a process, according to Senior Master Sgt. Cary Brown, inspection flight chief for the 442nd Maintenance Squadron.

"You have to remove the aft landing pod assembly," he said. "Just to inspect it is a day's work and that includes work from several shops. Once we have everything removed, it's pretty simple. (The) structures (shop) removes some fasteners and NDI (non-destructive inspection) puts in their probe to look for cracks. We'll then put in an engineering assistance request and give the information we find to the A-10 depot at Hill (Air Force Base, Utah). They'll send us back information on what we need to do next."

The coordination between various shops - fabrication, repair and reclamation, metals, structural maintenance, and the crew chief's community, among others - and the dedication of the Airmen involved have brought praise from several wing leaders.

"Our maintainers are the best in the world," said Col. Mark Clemons, 442nd Fighter Wing commander. "They've taken the initiative on something that looked like dire straits for us and turned it to where we're in the best position of any A-10 organization right now. Everybody knows what's going on and they have a game plan for the rest of our wing's fleet. We're doing things smart and it's a testament to what Gen. (John) Bradley and Gen. (Charles) Stenner have said - we have the best maintainers in the world here."

General Bradley, who recently retired as chief of the Air Force Reserve, led the 442nd Fighter Wing from 1989-1993. General Stenner assumed command of AFRC in June. He commanded the 442nd Fighter Wing from 1997-1998.

"Our wing has Airmen who have so much talent," said Lt. Col. Anne Yelderman, 442nd Maintenance Squadron commander. "They are truly master craftsmen. It's absolutely incredible to watch them as they gather and feed-back information as they're teaching and learning. They're at the heart-beat of how to solve this problem, which has far-reaching implications across the entire fleet."

Regardless of what happens at other A-10 units, confidence is sky-high that 442nd Fighter Wing Airmen will keep doing what they've been doing, according to Colonel Vander Linden.

"We're here to produce safe, flyable airplanes to get the mission done and we'll keep on doing that," he said.

Only one of the three associated pictures:

Staff Sgt. Micah Gaches inspects the wing of an A-10 Thunderbolt II for cracks on November 9, 2008, in the 442nd Maintenance Group's 5-Bay Hangar. The inspections are mandatory throughout certain A-10s in the entire fleet due to a time-compliance technical order, which was issued in October. Organization, planning and skill in the maintenance group has minimized the impact on the wing's flying operations. Sergeant Gaches is an aircraft structural technician in the 442nd Maintenance Squadron, part of the 442nd Fighter Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Huntington) Hi-res

Source (Released today)

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