February 23, 2006 (by G. A. Volb) - The F-22 Raptor's unequaled capabilities bring some unique challenges to Air Force maintainers at Hill AFB, Utah. Not the least of which is gearing up a support machine to handle the maintenance workload when the first Raptors arrive for modifications in April.
Approximately 18 of the 21st century fighter aircraft will see depot maintenance at Hill throughout the first year.
"The first aircraft," according to Mike Dooner, 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group F-22 production chief, "will have the lighting system for night, air-to-air refueling system upgraded ... along with a few other minor factory modifications."
"Most maintainers will tell you that being on the ground floor of a new weapon system is unique," said Dooner. "A lot of hard work goes into getting it off the ground but in the end, you have the opportunity to implement new ideas and ways of doing business."
Mike Dooner, F-22 production chief
The challenge for maintainers is keeping up with the "latest weapon system technology," he said. "But our technicians and support personnel have spent most of their careers working with new technology, so it won't be a new challenge." But preparing for the workload is an adventure in itself.
Depot activation for a new weapon system always presents challenges, but even more so for the F-22 given its high-end technology and sensitive profile.
"We're partnering with the aircraft's original equipment manufacturers (Lockheed-Martin and Boeing) to ensure we have the supply support we need," said Don Hallford, F-22 program manager.
Maintainers have to work supply line issues - making sure needed parts are on hand among other things, building a work area specifically for the F-22, and developing training requirements for mechanics.
"Most maintainers will tell you that being on the ground floor of a new weapon system is unique," said Dooner. "A lot of hard work goes into getting it off the ground but in the end, you have the opportunity to implement new ideas and ways of doing business. We have the chance to start anew, eliminating waste from our processes and procedures up front."
"And while the F-22 presents challenges when it comes to stealth technology, we've been working B-2 bomber maintenance for a while - about seven years - so we have experience in that field as well," he emphasized.
The maintainers continue, however, to take a proactive approach by sending personnel to field training detachments for hands-on schooling.
By virtue of the F-22 design, it's hoped maintainers will find their work a little more "user-friendly." According to officials, the Raptor will have better reliability and maintainability than any fighter aircraft in Air Force history.
An F-22 squadron also requires less than half the airlift of an F-15 squadron to deploy. Plus, the aircraft's increased reliability and maintainability pays off in less manpower to fix it and the ability to operate more efficiently.
"People are excited to start working on it," said Dooner. "We have heard about this aircraft for years now, and the maintenance and support teams are eager to dive in and get their hands dirty."
Dooner said experienced technicians and support personnel from all over the base will help implement the workload associated with the F-22 coming in April. Initially, maintainers are looking at between 30-35 flow days to turn around each aircraft.