News: Airman streamlines mission
Story by Gina Randall
RAF MILDENHALL, England - When looking at aircraft in the sky or sitting on the flightline, people might not think of the work it takes to ensure the KC-135 Stratotankers are in the best possible condition.
But that job belongs to the airmen assigned to the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. They ensure the tankers are fit to fly.
The maintainers provide safe and reliable aircraft that contribute to the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s mission to provide and employ global air refueling, combat support and expeditionary forces.
A major component of the 100th AMXS are the crew chiefs. They are responsible for each section of the aircraft, with their systems broken up into hydraulics specialists, engine specialists, guidance and control, communication, navigation and electrical.
And these crew chiefs are always looking for ways to improve.
When Tech. Sgt. Shannon Brooks, 100th AMXS production expeditor and crew chief from Folio, Calif., arrived in August 2013, he ran into a previous work colleague who gave him a challenge.
“I ran into him in the hallway and he said, ‘Sgt. Brooks, it’s your job to fix the wash rack program,’” he said.
Brooks accepted the challenge. The existing program kept planes mission ready, but the production expeditor saw room for improvement.
“It was pretty randomized, people would just go out and try to accomplish a wash with as much manpower as they had, and sometimes it was just two people working the job,” he said. “On average it took 26 hours.”
Brooks saw this as too long a time for the aircraft to be on the ramp. With the current financial climate, he knew he needed to find a way to speed up the process without spending money, and free up airmen for other jobs rather than spending 26 hours to wash a plane.
“For a month, I tracked the wash system they had, and I highlighted areas I thought could be improved to help reduce the overall downtime of the aircraft,” he said.
Brooks saw that with some thought and reorganization, the 100th AMXS could do things more efficiently.
“I wanted to improve the overall man hours spent washing and lubricating the aircraft, so a couple of the key items I found that could be improved were transportation, tools and team structure,” he said.
The first improvement Brooks made was to establish a team structure. He ensured the wash teams had transportation and adequate tools, and he implemented a 30-day wash cycle. Now, instead of the washers being random people, there was a set team for each cycle. The team completed preparation, wash and de-prep.
The results were extremely positive. Using teams reduced the amount of time to wash an aircraft from about 26 hours down to Brooks’ team’s best time of nine and a half hours.
“The program has had a great impact on our mission. This program is improving and it’ll keep moving forward,” Brooks said. “Previously our specialists only worked on the wash, and when it came to lubricate the aircraft, they left. Now, we are having them do the full wash and lubricant.”
Additionally, the squadron now has more qualified airmen working on the planes, which will help free up manpower in the long run.
“The quicker the aircraft is out of the dock and back on the flightline, the better,” the production expeditor said. “We ensure we have safe and reliable aircraft.”
Although the wash schedule has improved, Brooks said there is still room for improvement in other areas.
“There are several key areas I believe can be improved. One of the main areas is training,” Brooks said. “[RAF Mildenhall] is a very diverse location. It’s kind of a mixing pot; we have a lot of different people coming from different airframes.”
Transitioning from one airframe to another can be a challenge for airmen new to a base.
“I would like to see a stronger training program, to ease the transition to this aircraft,” the production expeditor said. “This would make them better all-round and safer maintainers.”
Brooks has laid the foundations, but it’s up to him and his co-workers to continue to make any programs work.
“It’s my coworkers who have really put forth the effort to ensure this [wash] program works,” Brooks said. “They believed in it and saw the big picture; they wanted a good, solid system.”
With the vision Brooks has laid out, the 100th AMXS will continue to succeed one aircraft at a time.