August 8, 2002 (by Sheila Siddall) - The "F-16 Landing Gear Team " was assembled June 19 for the long-awaited testing of it's time-change ship-set gear. The test represents a major milestone for the impending F-16 heavy weight time-change program that is now on target to begin April 2003.
The Team, consisting of technicians, production planners and schedulers, production managers, engineers and program managers gathered in the final buildup area located in the Landing Gear Overhaul Facility, Bldg. 507 at Hill AFB
. They witnessed the first official swing test of the F-16 main landing gear ship set. The test replicates an actual extension and retraction of the landing gear, as it would function in an operational environment.
F-16 experiences a series of mishaps
In the early to mid 90's the F-16 heavy weight aircraft began experiencing a series of mishaps due to landing gear collapses. A high return rate on major gear components, in conjunction with ever-increasing maintenance man-hours per aircraft resulted in a comprehensive analysis of the entire landing gear system. The analysis confirmed the downward reliability and maintainability trend and defined the reasons (i.e., continued wear, corrosion/stress corrosion, and fatigue/aging problems). The analysis also assessed various maintenance change options and costs.
A short-term solution was identified and resulted in a sequence of time compliance technical order inspections accomplished by the field. The purpose of these inspections was to tighten the gear by inspecting and replacing worn out bushings and identify superficial corrosion. Once the initial inspections were completed, recurring follow-up -6 aircraft inspections were scheduled. The -6 inspections were extremely man-hour intensive, and generated an extra repair burden on the depot. Landing gear items that were inspected in the field, which were found to exceed technical data limits had to be returned to the depot for overhaul or condemnation. In turn, a high number of MICAPs (mission capable) and backorders were generated as the suspense for field units to complete -6 inspections were due. So began a continuous cycle of support problems.
The Warfighter asked, "Is there a better way to do this?"
In Jan. 1998 the Landing Gear Requirements Branch met with Headquarters Air Combat Command to propose the establishment of a field-level time-change program as a long-term solution to the problem. In Aug. 1998 a memorandum of agreement was signed by the Major Command, F-16 System Program Office and the Commodities Directorate Committing to the first ever F-16 time-change program.
Since the F-16 aircraft does not have an established programmed depot maintenance program, a field-level removal and reinstallation of the landing gear system as a ship set was proposed. The ship set would then be returned to the depot for a complete overhaul. The new ship set system changes the landing gear from piece parts (i.e., shock strut, drag brace, axles) being sent in one at a time due to single failures, to a complete gear ship set with all items being sent in as scheduled maintenance.
Before implementation of the time change, Headquarters Air Combat Command requested that Ogden Air Logistics Center first accomplish an analytical condition inspection (ACI) on 11 different aircraft throughout the F-16 fleet. The purpose of the ACI was to determine and document the actual condition of the gear in the field. The data gathered from the inspections would then be used to determine the correct time interval for the program.
Landing Gear Division, Requirements Branch implemented the ACI on 11 gear sets to be evaluated over a one-year time period beginning Apr. 2001. The Technology and Industrial Directorate's Quality Verification Center was tasked to document each of the landing gear component measurements and perform a detailed inspection of the landing gear.
Although the ACI effort did begin as planned, progress was slow. Internal Quality Verification Center Shop equipment malfunctions, limited manning, and higher taskings - as a result of Enduring Freedom -hindered progress and set the program back several months. Ultimately, final completion of the project was pushed back to Aug. 2002.
Landing Gear Division, Requirements Branch anticipates the project will be completed by August, after which a closing report will be available. Results documented in the report will determine the specific time period for F-16 field units to send their ship sets to the depot for repair.
Depot Workload Increases
Implementation of the F-16 heavy weight time-change program means an increase in workload to the depot. The Landing Gear Overhaul Facility will go from producing F-16 piece-parts only to producing both piece parts and ship sets. For example, this would mean that in addition to the current number of main landing gear shock struts produced - approximately 80 per year- the facility will be tasked to produce an extra 114 the first year and increase that to 252 in by fiscal year 2004.
Advantages to the warfighter
The F-16 heavy weight landing gear time-change program provides the following advantages to the warfighter: a long-term solution to declining R&M, increases the overall gear service life, lowers the risk of failure, shifts repair maintenance man-hours from the field to the depot, improves logistics support and defines and levels requirements.
More importantly, the mode of operations changes from reactive to proactive.