A-10 'assembly-line' maintenance concept a model of efficiency

GOWEN FIELD, Boise, Idaho -- A-10 maintenance personnel from the 124th Wing here are in the early stages of a new "assembly line" maintenance concept that may serve as a model for how Air Force aircraft maintenance is performed in the future.
Dubbed the Consolidated Install Program, this program began June 1 and is projected to save thousands of man hours and millions of dollars over the next year by installing up to 12 modifications at one time via Time Compliance Technical Orders (TCTOs). The program is designed to improve combat capability for the warfighter without impacting aircraft availability when compared to past ways of upgrading aircraft systems, said Idaho Air Guard Capt. Eric Newman, officer-in-charge of the project.
The Air Force's standard operating procedure for performing modifications of this type has typically been to release TCTOs that directed individual units to perform any required maintenance modifications to assigned aircraft at home station.
But after witnessing the recent success of A-10 wing repairs using a similar assembly line concept, Senior Master Sgt. Eric Krentz, Headquarters-Air Combat Command functional area manager of A-10 Avionics Functional Manager systems, thought there may be a better way.
Enter the 124th Wing. Idaho Air National Guard maintainers, who have a proven track record of success for past modifications on their own A-10s, will upgrade more than 130 of the Air Force's 356 A-10s over the next year. According to Krentz, this is the first time an Air National Guard A-10 unit has been tapped to implement a Total Force Initiative in the A-10 community supporting active duty, Guard and Reserve A-10 units.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog," the Air Force's premier close air support aircraft, is in the midst of a series of upgrades as part of the Precision Engagement modifications. These improvements to the aircraft's avionics, weapons delivery and communications systems are expected to extend the life of the aircraft - once slated for decommission prior to the first Gulf War - as far out as 2030 and perhaps beyond.
According to Krentz, these consolidated modifications go beyond the A-10C model, or precision engagement upgrades, and contribute to sustained warfighting capabilities.
"The A-10 is not going anywhere. It is still the premier platform in the overseas area of operations," said Krentz.
Maintenance personnel here are in the midst of a coordinated effort, "attacking" each aircraft with a laser focus on speed, efficiency and safety, said Newman. By cutting the average down time of each aircraft by as much as three weeks if the repairs had been done at their home station, the captain and other maintainers hope to show the Air Force a new way of doing business.
"When an aircraft lands, it is like ants crawling on a hill," Newman said.
With so much to do and a self-imposed short timeline to do it, maintainers get to work right away. Infrared sensors that automatically dispense chaff and flare are installed on the wings and tail. The radio system integration that allows for easier management for aircrews and significantly enhances communication with ground forces is getting an update that will allow communication beyond the line of sight. Additional memory is being installed in the computer systems and many other modifications further increase the combat capability of the A-10. The engines will run more efficiently thanks to a new fuel management system.
The project has also created some real ingenuity and out-of-the box thinking for maintainers. Things like custom-made storage crates, maintenance stand-mounted tool bins and other ideas are already shaving time off of the repairs to each aircraft, which will really add up in the long run, Newman said.
Air Force leaders have taken note. Col. Jon Sutterfield, chief of ACC's combat aircraft division, visited Gowen Field June 16 to assess the progress of the program.
"The teamwork, creativity and innovation of the team are very evident. They are constantly thinking about how to do it better, faster and more effectively. I am very impressed with what they've done so far," Sutterfield said.
This new mission for the 124th Wing couldn't have come at a better time. The project gives 45 Air National Guard members full-time employment. Many of them were supporting the former C-130 airlift mission, which was recently relocated due to a Base Realignment and Closure decision. Many first-class maintenance facilities were also left vacant as a result, including the hangars where the A-10 upgrades are taking place.
Airmen like Tech. Sgt. Jason Fontaine, a former C-130 loadmaster, are learning new skills and gaining valuable experience that will allow them to make a more educated decision when it comes time to formally retrain to a new Air Force Specialty Code.
"( Fontaine) and several others came highly recommended, so we picked them up for this project," said Newman. "They have worked extremely hard to learn quickly and have become great assets to the team."
Newman and all the members of this important project know full well this is a marathon, not a sprint. He said many personnel will rotate through different duties in the project to avoid burnout.
"We want the avionics people to learn structures, the structural people to learn the electrical piece and so on," Newman said.
Everyone is focused on exceeding expectations, which might equate to more work of this type in the future. "This project is a pathfinder in a lot of ways. It may show us ways of doing things better, faster, smarter and cheaper to get new capabilities on jets," said Krentz.