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Maintenance squadron sets A-10 record

Dennis Miller (right) and Chris Ward inspect the wiring in A-10 panels before sending the aircraft to the fuel dock. Photo by Bill Orndorff

Dennis Miller (right) and Chris Ward inspect the wiring in A-10 panels before sending the aircraft to the fuel dock. Photo by Bill Orndorff

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- HILL AIR FORCE BASE, UT--The 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron reached a new A-10 milestone on March 1 when aircraft 79-0082 finished its Precision Engagement modification 14 days ahead of schedule.

The modification gives the A-10 precision weapons capability through significant rewiring and the addition of modern avionics upgrades. The A-10C Precision Engagement program was accelerated by 18 months to meet the needs of the warfighter, causing the program to undergo concurrent fielding and development.

"We're delivering airplanes to Air Combat Command, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units, while we're still finishing the development and design of the modification." explained Greg Hoffman, 571 AMXS director. "The program is being pushed on a fast track. You start to do the modifications as you go and you don't have the luxury of time to sit there and flow out how to best lay it out, so you get a couple airplanes under your belt and then make changes as you go. It's part of continuous process improvement -- we're always looking for ways to do things better."

As with any new and accelerated program, there were challenges with parts supportability from vendors as well as maintenance procedures.

"Lockheed Martin Systems Integration from Owego, N.Y. is our prime contractor. When you accelerate a program on us, and our aircraft flow is accelerated, it accelerates their delivery schedule as well." Mr. Hoffman added, "They've had challenges ramping up production. Initially, we had some points where we were waiting for components from Lockheed, but they've done a tremendous job rising to meet every challenge and give us the support we need."

To add to the challenges, the A-10s lost six production docks to another workload and training was needed for nearly 100 new technicians hired over the past year.

"Our squadron almost doubled in size with the addition of this modification. They added the new folks primarily between January and June of last year," Mr. Hoffman said. "We had a lot of new people who had never worked in the aircraft business before, so the training curve was pretty steep. A lot of them still have less than a year at the center and they're still learning the weapon system."

Many of the new hires had their core training at the Davis Applied Technology College in Kaysville, then went through classroom and on-the-job training at Hill focusing on the modification's specific skills.

As a way to ensure the program's success, a 12-member Lean Team was formed last October to establish a standard work package that logically flows every step of this new program from wheels down to wheels up.

"Everybody has played a part in the evolution of the Lean process," Mr. Hoffman said. "When we came up with the new Lean schedule, it accelerated Lockheed's parts delivery processes and the 309th Commodities Maintenance Group's modification of the aircraft equipment. If they hadn't been able to meet our new schedule, our Lean flow efforts would have failed. A lot of people outside our organization, including the 508th Aircraft Sustainment Wing's A-10 Program Office and the 514th Flight Test Squadron, which flies the check flights on our aircraft, are a key part of our success."

The Lean team used Critical Chain Process Management, also known as buffer management, to create a daily "hot list" of operations that need to be accomplished. The team further enhanced the process by breaking the technicians into cells to improve training, quality and cost.

"The cells we established were to focus on a couple issues," Mr. Hoffman said. "One was to keep our process moving. More importantly, it was to ensure our training curve was accelerated. Instead of technicians getting assigned to an airplane and having to work the entire airplane, they can focus on the gun bay area or the cockpit area so the skills build up much quicker. We keep them in that area, and when everybody gets to a certain level, then we can start swapping personnel around to expand their abilities."

These efforts will allow the 571 AMXS to meet their goal of 70 A-10 Precision Engagement modifications this year.

Aircraft 79-0082 arrived at Hill AFB Dec. 14, 2006, and was the first aircraft inducted into the new Lean process.

"Throughout the evolution of this modification, the technicians of the 571 AMXS have risen to meet every challenge," Mr. Hoffman said. "In fact, aircraft 79-0082 actually passed aircraft on the production line that had arrived 30 days earlier but were not in the Lean flow. This is a true testament to the fact that Lean can make a difference."

"The 571st mechanics are well on their way to successfully executing the A-10 Precision Engagement program," Mr. Hoffman said. "They have reduced overtime from more than 1,400 hours per aircraft to an average of 600 hours. Overall modification time was reduced from a high of 5,400 hours to consistently under 4,000 hours and are well on their way to the 3,512-hour target.

"Focusing on these aspects will not only ensure the warfighter gets a quality product on time, but reducing overtime and installation hours will, in essence, be giving money back to our customer to keep pushing additional aircraft to us within the program."