News: KC-135 overhauled in record time
Story by Senior Airman Mary Thach
LINCOLN, Neb. – A KC-135R Stratotanker from the Lincoln-based 155th Air Refueling Wing recently made history when it became the first KC-135 to be completely overhauled in less than 100 days at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Aircraft tail number 63-7988 was overhauled in a record time of 99 flow days, making it the fastest overhaul Tinker AFB has ever performed on a KC-135.
Col. Keith Schell, commander of the 155th, said it’s very important to have the aircraft overhauled thoroughly every five years, but also as quickly as possible so they are available for training and flying missions.
“If you think about what we do here, our primary mission is to fly and refuel,” said Schell. “We are limited by our number of aircraft here. We have eight planes right now and with one being gone, that limits us to seven.”
“The missions we can support are reduced because of the aircraft that we send out,” he added. “We have one less training asset, so the training that needs to take place, specifically in maintenance, there’s less of a chance for our new people and people who have been here a long time to train.”
During a KC-135 overhaul, the 155th Maintenance Squadron will send ‘Team Spirit,’ a group of approximately five people specifically selected based on their specialized training, to travel to Tinker to perform a miniature inspection one month prior to the completion of the overhaul. Team Spirit inspects their aircraft to ensure all parts are functioning correctly, and to catch any issues prior to the completion of the overhaul.
The process to overhaul the aircraft is quite lengthy.
When a KC-135 arrives at Tinker, it is processed through five stages, or gates -- pre-dock and wash, inspection dock, speedy structures or extended flow dock, systems check and post-dock where the jet receives a functional check flight. Within those gates, there are countless people who touch or are affiliated with the aircraft.
Twelve years ago, a KC-135 overhaul averaged 400 days, and four years ago, it took 266 days for the same procedure. It is quite significant for Team Tinker to cut the average time of an overhaul from 127 days, down to 99 days.
“To reduce an overhaul from 400 days or more to 99 days is a phenomenal job they have done down there,” said Schell. “How that affects us, instead of having a jet gone for a year and a half, it’s gone for 90 days and we will have access to that aircraft.”
“It’s also a testament to our crew chiefs and our maintainers,” said Schell. “In between these inspections, we still have minor inspections we do, and of course flying. Our crew chiefs and maintainers do such a phenomenal job on keeping them up and highlighting what’s wrong and fixing it here. That makes it easier for them down there.”
Schell also expressed his gratitude to Tinker for streamlining their process and returning the aircraft in excellent condition.
“I would like to thank Tinker,” said Schell. “They are doing a phenomenal job. They are working hard trying to get these planes out faster and better. They have done a lot of great things.”
Tech. Sgt. Nic Bethune, a crew chief of the overhauled aircraft, said breaking the 100-day barrier is a reflection of the hard work the aircraft maintainers have poured into this aircraft.
“It means quite a bit,” said Bethune. “A lot of it speaks about the maintenance back here. If the inspection goes fast, that means that the home station maintenance and upkeep is actually going better than expected.”
“It means quite a lot to have a quality product sent down there and receiving one back says a lot about our team,” he added. “We do everything by-the-book like we are supposed to and we are hoping everyone else is too. Just knowing that everything is done correctly and if you do follow the book and do it the correct way, you know you have a quality product. Then you send it down and you get it back faster and keep it flying.”
Tech. Sgt. Ryan Sandell, the second crew chief of the overhauled aircraft, agreed.
“It says a lot about our maintenance culture here, about taking that extra step, making sure things are right,” said Sandell. “And going above and beyond what the minimum requirements are. Our crew personally goes even further. We have a lot of pride in the aircraft. Our success is tied to its success.”