July 19, 2004 (by Franklin Fisher) - Eighth Fighter Wing officials at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, decided earlier this year that they needed a faster way of getting jets from the maintenance hangar to combat-ready status.
Col. Rick Jones, the 8th Maintenance Group commander, had seen statistics showing that Kunsan's wing took longer than some other Pacific Air Forces units getting aircraft through the maintenance cycle.
'It wasn't drastically different, but we were a few percentage points [behind],' Jones said.
So with approval from then-wing commander Col. Robin Rand, Jones ordered a team of seasoned aircraft maintenance experts to brainstorm a better way.
Over several months starting in March, the Improvement Inspection Team - an officer and 25 noncommissioned officers - met in Hangar 1. They computed statistics, fed data into a computer and held working pizza-and-soda lunches.
Wing officials said the results could cut the time an F-16 fighter is sidelined for regularly scheduled maintenance by 30 percent to 42 percent.
Called 'composite testing,' the method streamlines the process by eliminating tasks that were performed repeatedly.
An aircraft might require inspection and upkeep of its fuel system, wiring and landing gear - or it might require an overhaul.
Inspecting and fixing one major system can take days. And an F-16 scheduled for five major jobs could sit for 26 Air Force 'non-mission capable' days.
Redundant tasks were the main culprit. Mechanics who worked on an aircraft section might have had to unscrew and reinstall bolts and panels. And mechanics working on another part in the same area might have unscrewed and reinstalled the same panels.
The team tested its ideas June 7 on an F-16 scheduled for four major checks, a job that usually required 22 days, said 1st Lt. Pedro Lopez, the 8th Maintenance Squadron's Maintenance Flight commander and team leader.
The aircraft was ready after 13 days, a 'pretty significant drop in scheduled non-mission capable for maintenance rate,' Jones said.
?This is the way we are scheduling all our future aircraft at this point,' Lopez said. ?This is the new adopted way of doing business.'
The wing is testing the method on another F-16 and will refine the process with scheduled maintenance, Lopez said.
'The obvious benefit when you look at days of aircraft availability is war readiness,' Lopez said. 'You want to have war-ready mission assets to be able to go to war if necessary. So if you start talking about reducing the number of aircraft down days by a percentage of 32 percent - then essentially what you're talking about is increased war readiness.'
The wing also will 'be significantly cutting down on our manpower,' using the streamlined system, Jones said, adding that 'it also saves wear and tear on those screws and those panels that we were pulling off' repeatedly.
Jones said it's too early to know whether composite testing would be adopted elsewhere in the Air Force, but he's already had inquiries from senior Air Force officials.
'It is amazing that after all these years we can come up with another way to skin this cat, so my hat's off' to the team that devised the new system, Jones said.