ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The 802nd Maintenance Support Squadron's First Article Test Laboratory puts new material to the test in support of warfighter.
A first article is an initial sample part from a machine or system supplied by a manufacturer to be tested before going into full production.
“Our primary purpose is to ensure aircraft parts that the Air Force is purchasing are to the highest quality that they can be,” said Dustin Collins, 802nd Maintenance Support Squadron First Article Test Laboratory chief. “We do that by running through various test processes to ensure we are getting a good product to meet the customer’s expectations.”
The process starts with the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.
“The AFLCMC Program Office initiates purchasing of a contract, which goes to Defense Logistics Agency to procure that part,” said Collins. “DLA writes contracts with outside venders, who are third party manufacturers. The manufacturer will then make one part and that is called a First Article. They will submit that part to the government laboratory for testing.”
Once a First Article item arrives, a test plan is created.
“The AFLCMC Program Office designs a test plan and it is up to them to tell us what features to test on each part,” said Collins. “The test plan is a roadmap to decide how we are going to go forward with testing a part.”
The test plan is created by a subject matter expert familiar with the weapon system.
“We do not make it up as a laboratory; we let them tell us what they want because they are the SME’s of the airframe,” said Collins. “They know these airframes, they know these parts, and they know where these parts go onto the aircraft.”
Several test types may be performed on First Article material.
“Many parts go through the same process that we offer,” said Collins. “Those processes are dimensional testing, materials testing and organic laboratory testing for the coatings. Sometimes they get engineering testing for tensile tests.”
The testing process can be lengthy.
“The goal is to ensure that the contractor can make a good part for the government,” said Collins. “We do all the testing. It’s a lengthy process overall around a hundred days, and there are a lot of people touching this process.”
When the FAT lab completes testing, the results are provided to the AFLCMC.
“When we get done testing, everyone signs off on the first article, all the way back to the program offices,” said Collins. “Then DLA is allowed to go ahead and initiate that contract with that company. This will allow the contractor to build an ‘x’ number amount of parts to fill the request.”
Collins’ team provides crucial support to the sustainment mission and the Air Force.
“We definitely play a major part in the mission of maintaining aircraft, which is important to the United States in maintaining air superiority,” said Collins. “It’s very important that we have good quality parts and no counterfeit parts in our supply system. Those can lead to failures prematurely in aircraft and their weapons.”