Friday, August 6, 2010

Dollars and sense: 188th Avionics Intermediate Station generates inventive maintenance solutions, saves Air Force $1.3 million

by Capt. Heath Allen
Arkansas National Guard Public Affairs

8/5/2010 - FORT SMITH, Ark. -- One Air National Guard unit used its brains to save the Air Force some serious bucks. The 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas National Guard developed two small fixes for parts on its A-10C Thunderbolt II "Warthogs" that are paying big dividends not just at the unit level but Air Force-wide.

At presstime, the 188th Avionics Intermediate Station's (AIS) innovative solutions to repair throttle grips and up-front controllers on the A-10C had saved the Air Force $1,295,379.02. And those savings continue to grow as the AIS continues to repair both throttle grips and up-front controllers for the Air Force.

Statistics from a June 27, 2010 report, the latest at presstime, showed the 188th AIS had repaired 26 throttle grips and 57 up-front controllers, saving the Air Force $287,470.08 and 1,007,908.94, respectively.

"They're doing some amazing things there at the 188th Fighter Wing," said. Brig. Gen. Riley Porter, Arkansas Air National Guard commander. "That kind of hard work and commitment to the mission makes the Arkansas Air National Guard very proud. This is another great example of the cost effectiveness of the Air Guard."

The 188th AIS, comprised of Tech Sgt. Derrick Phillips (shop supervisor), Tech Sgt. Michael Reif, Staff Sgt. Jeffery Ames and Staff Sgt. Robert Craise, devised a strategy to improve the aircraft mission capable rates by repairing throttle grips and up-front controllers in house rather than wait for parts.

Master Sgt. Keith Weaver, 188th Avionics Element NCOIC, said the repair of both parts is typically accomplished at the Air Logistics Centers (ALC) at three different locations. Weaver said this process takes weeks and sometimes months. In the meantime, the affected A-10s are grounded until they can receive the new parts, subsequently reducing the number of aircraft available for essential pilot training.

Mr. Bill Youngworth, an aircraft maintenance consultant for the National Guard Bureau (NGB), said the inability of the ALCs to "rapidly convert to organic repair" of the right hand throttle grip and the up-front controller coupled with the termination of the vendor contract support agreements, prompted NGB to request that the A-10 Systems Program Office (SPO) at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, permit the 188th to perform repairs of these assets on-site as an interim solution.

Col. Howard Davis, who was the A-10 SPO Manager when the decision was made, and Mr. Jim Koos, A-10 SPO engineering, visited the 188th to determine the AIS' ability to effectively and safely accomplish the necessary repairs. Youngworth said the 188th was quickly approved to remedy the part issues.

"The 188th's talent and expertise has allowed the entire Combined Air Force (CAF) consisting of all MAJCOM to fly more effective training and combat sorties," Youngworth said. "The AIS shop's diligence, dedication, and expertise has been paramount to the current A-10 Precision Engagement Mission Capability rate. The unit's ability to quickly develop a process and testing capability to meet our current repair gap for both the throttle grip and UFC has not only saved significant funding, but more importantly U.S. and NATO lives in the Area of Responsibility."

Even Lt. Gen. Glenn Spears, 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern commander, visited the 188th to congratulate the AIS on their achievement.

"It's this kind of creativity and hard work that the Air Force needs," Spears said. "The experience that our Guard maintainers bring is simply unmatched. It's that experience that allowed them to think their way through difficult challenges to figure out a better way to keep our aircraft flying, reliable and ready to go to combat as the 188th just did, and very successfully."

Col. Mark Berry, 188th Maintenance Group commander, said the AIS is now repairing throttle grips and up-front controllers for the active duty Air Force, Reserves and other Air National Guard units.

"The A-10 is virtually useless without the throttle grip so this has made a huge impact in the A-10 community," Berry said. "The AIS went above and beyond. In this day and age with part supply issues and an aging weapons system, you can't afford to sit back and do nothing. If you want to make a difference in the mission, this is how you do it. You step up and solve problems."

The part to repair the up-front controller was previously purchased at $17,805 per unit. By simply replacing electrical dome switches on the front panel of the up-front controller (approximately $7 per switch) and mending cracks in the unit's plastic frame, the AIS was able to generate significant savings by not ordering the entire part, which was prior protocol to complete the repair.

Reparation of the parts, though, wasn't easy. Personnel are required to possess special qualifications, including certifications in high-reliability soldering and micro-miniature soldering, just to be qualified to make the repairs.

The remedy to overhaul the throttle grip featured either a slew switch alignment or replacement of the entire switch. Restoring the equipment by simply replacing one part rather than purchasing a new throttle grip was an inventive budget trimming measure that saved the Air Force approximately $1,400 per switch.

The AIS ordered the switch through a mid-level supplier rather than typical supply routes and was able to repair the throttle grip. Weaver said each throttle grip took approximately two and a half days to return to serviceable order.

"We put them right back on the planes and they worked perfectly," Weaver said. "Same thing with the up-front controllers. Now other bases send those parts to us for repair."

While saving the Air Force's money was certainly a boon, the AIS' crafty course of action also preserved valuable time in the effort to maintain mission readiness.

The AIS was also able to trim man hours significantly by developing a test box that validates every operation of the up-front controller and verifies 100 percent reliability of the part following the repairs.

"It allows us to simulate all of the voltages of the aircraft and test all the switches in-house," Weaver said.

This test box was built with a cost of only $128 and saves three man hours per test compared to the previous method, which required AIS personnel to test the components on the aircraft. The new test box requires just 15 minutes for a complete electrical examination.

"The box actually gives us more data to determine what's wrong with the part rather than taking it to the aircraft," said Tech Sgt. Derrick Phillips, AIS NCOIC . "The box breaks down each issue to tell us if it's a switch problem or circuit problem. The aircraft will only tell you there's a problem; it won't tell you what it is."

Phillips said the AIS deciphered each indicator produced by the up-front controller and identified the location where those signals where sent and exactly what issue each one communicated and then used reverse circuitry to simulate each electrical message in the test box.

The AIS took seven of its repaired up-front controllers and three broken parts and tested them on the box and then the A-10's test system to ensure they both were congruent.

"We got the same result on both systems all 10 times," Phillips said.

The AIS has submitted the test box through the Air Force Suggestion Program in hopes of reproducing this same invention for use Air Force-wide. The AIS is fast approaching completion of final draft of the test box's technical order to aid in the process.

"We're always looking for ways to make ourselves more marketable," Berry said. "Our guys are always telling other units that don't have the capability to send them something else to fix. That's the type of people we have at the 188th. When other bases got word we could fix these parts and test one of them, they started calling us pretty quick."


Please note:Related pictures will be uploaded soon.

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