Robins accelerates unique AFSOC maintenance program

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
The implications are tremendous. 

The C-130 Air Force Special Operations Command Acceleration Plan now being worked in the 560th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron directly affects current world events.

"Just look at the news. It will get you on board with this," said Mike Smith, AFSOC Acceleration Plan team lead. "This aircraft directly affects what happens on the news. 

"These planes get beat up and they're used, so it's very important for us to step up the plate," he added. "These mechanics have bought into it to get these aircraft back to the warfighter as quickly as we can." 

The plan will also transform the way programmed depot maintenance operations are conducted in the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.

"The process improvements we've made can transfer to other flights across the base, speeding up the general PDM process," said Smith, "This will be the quickest a gunship has ever gone through PDM from wheels down to wheels up, at 97 days. That's just unheard of."

The squadron is on track to meet or beat a 97-day internal goal of producing an AC-130U gunship. In early December, the squadron - along with supporting units - had completed about 10,000 of the 18,000-hour work package. 

It's scheduled to leave in late January. It's also the first of six accelerated AFSOC planes slated to be at Robins this fiscal year (additional AFSOC aircraft will be on station that aren't undergoing the acceleration process). Their mission is so critical overseas that turnaround times for each aircraft here has the potential to change the way the WR-ALC performs traditional PDM. 

The planes are flying daily missions downrange - a significant and direct reminder that isn't lost on anyone. Every day matters, and everyone's dedication and motivation reflects that understanding.

On the significance of future PDM, take for example the current seven gate structure in place in the squadron. The new, multi-year accelerated program includes a prototype of a new five-gate structure to replace the older one. A few tasks were eliminated from Gate 3 and rolled into Gate 1; and instead of taking an aircraft out of depaint to sit in a shelter, it's taken straight into a dock.   

Once a plane arrives, it undergoes an induction process which includes disassembly for depaint operations and the removal of items such as flight controls. With the accelerated program, that same process was shaved to a period of a week from the time the aircraft arrived in late October until it made its way to a waiting dock.  That had never happened before. 

Any aircraft components, flight controls and floorboards, were also routed much earlier in the process. And 339th Flight Test Squadron pilots flew to Hurlburt Field, Fla., performing incoming operations checks on the flight back to Robins. That also contributed to lessening flow days later on, finding a few issues early which were immediately addressed upon arrival. 

There's a nine-day requirement in Gate 1 for a U-model gunship, the new process was completed in three, including foam removal. Gate 2 has a 20-day requirement, it was completed in 13. 

With the possibility of creating a new gate structure with a faster timeline, this first aircraft has created a new level of excitement - the potential to cut 90 days off total PDM flow days. 

That equates to three months of work. That's a huge leap considering the average C-130 PDM is about 183 days.  

Another difference noted with this new program is that fewer components are routed to backshops, as opposed to regular PDM. A team of nearly 50 mechanics are specifically dedicated to the program, with the flight working three shifts, five days a week. 

"I think what has helped is we've been hands-on since the plane's arrival," said Chris Morgan, a sheet metal mechanic who's worked at Robins 25 years.

Fellow mechanic Casey Battle agreed. "The less hands you have handling parts, we've found the better off we are because nothing gets lost. We ensure parts get to where they need to go in-house, and taken care of until they come back to us," he said. 

Some of the issues found on this initial aircraft were corrosion and avionics issues, as well as more than 500 dents caused by hail damage. Each was measured and surface-scanned with non-destructive testing techniques to ensure there were no cracks. 

That entire process was completed in about three days, with no cracks found in pressurized areas. 

As far as Art of the Possible, the squadron is more or less streamlining the process. There's the same structure in place; however, the airplane is just being treated differently. 

The same group of mechanics will work each gate throughout the entire process, staying on the critical path. Along with various units, close support was received from the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group's metal bond team, who were instrumental in performing metal bond repairs on the aircraft quickly, reducing those critical path durations.  

Visual production control boards help keep the flight on track. 

The next accelerated aircraft, an MC-130 Combat Talon, is scheduled to arrive in early January when its outer wings will be replaced. It can take about 204 flow days of PDM; the goal is to knock that down to 133 days.