Robins completes its 500th C-17, preps for future heavy maintenance

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
The 500th C-17 Globemaster III maintained at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex was met with great fanfare Tuesday on the flight line.

The aircraft was scheduled to be returned Wednesday to its customer, the 97th Air Mobility Wing at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. 

To date in fiscal 2016, this was the sixth C-17 delivered. 

"Our 500th delivery represents a significant milestone of the accomplishments of hundreds of professional maintainers who have worked on C-17s since 2001," said Mike Doubleday, 562nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron director. "It represents the ALC's future workload of heavy maintenance and the continued need for synchronized support from our 28-plus mission partners." 

Maintainers and support personnel with the C-17 program gathered by the aircraft Tuesday, with some wearing commemorative T-shirts to mark the occasion. There are 550 people in the squadron. 

The 500th aircraft - a number that represents aircraft which have either visited the depot for maintenance or modification work - was here for 160 days and received 19,000 hours of heavy maintenance. That includes repairs, overhaul work and inspections.

Ready workforce
It's a number not lost on those in attendance, especially with significant changes over the last several years, notably the introduction of the Air Force Sustainment Center's 'Art of the Possible,' which has brought standardization to aircraft maintenance operations at Robins. 

Having tools ready in time for maintainers to work an aircraft is one example that has been welcomed. At any one time during a C-17's programmed depot maintenance, there can be up to 30 mechanics dedicated to the aircraft, as well as an array of mission partners from the Defense Logistics Agency, the 78th Air Base Wing, 638th Supply Chain Management Group and 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group which support it. 

"This is the program I started in and to see it grow has been phenomenal," said Percy Jackson, a 562nd AMXS aircraft mechanic and a C-17 chief steward with American Federation of Government Employees Local 987. 

He's been a C-17 mechanic here for 10 years. 

Jackson said the comments he hears from maintainers is that customers appreciate the speed of work and the quality of maintenance when delivered. He also said the mindset of the workforce has changed over the last several years. 

"The relationship has been really good, and we're trying our best to keep everyone gainfully employed," said Jackson, referring to the relationship between union, management and its industry partner, Boeing. "We've been working well with each other to ensure this is a successful program."  

On the upcoming workload in fiscal 2016, the squadron expects more heavy maintenance of C-17s with fewer modifications. Fiscal 2015 saw a string of successful missions completed, including the modifications of large aircraft infrared countermeasures systems, or LAIRCM, across the fleet.

Other workload included the Globemaster Reach Improvement Program; the On Board Inert Gas Generation II System; and installation of extended-range fuel tanks. 

Maintainers also completed a complex avionics and weather radar modernization package as part of the steady BLOCK 16 program. 

Robins is home to the Air Force's C-17 System Program Office (with personnel co-located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio); the office includes foreign military sales personnel and Boeing representatives responsible for the operational safety, suitability and effectiveness of the fleet. 

In all, the office includes nearly 200 active-duty and civilian personnel and contractors who actively support the C-17 workload. Its Mission Fleet Support Center is in daily contact with a network of bases and international partners across the globe to communicate fleet status and parts supportability issues for maintenance and sustainment.  

The C-17's mission-capable rates consistently stay at 87 percent, which refers to the fleet's aircraft availability for the warfighter. 

There are currently 222 in the U.S. Air Force fleet, and nearly 50 others flown by international partners. Four additional aircraft are awaiting delivery to the Qatar Emiri Air Force. 

Boeing shuttered its C-17 production this year. One final aircraft remains unsold. 

"The C-17 has been going through a modification program for the past several years," said Col. Amanda Myers, C-17 SPO director. "We've been upgrading it, adding different capabilities ...that work is almost complete. So now when it comes in, it's really getting an overhaul to make sure it's still functioning properly. 

"We're ensuring it stays a safe platform for our warfighters, and that it's still accomplishing the mission the way it was designed to," she added.

C-17 impact
Among the C-17's unrivaled capabilities is its ability to deliver strategic and tactical airlift, perform airdrop and medevac operations, as well as provide humanitarian assistance across the globe. 

"The C-17 bridges the gap between our largest aircraft, the C-5 Galaxy, and our smaller C-130 aircraft," said Col. Jennifer Hammerstedt, 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Group commander. "Its versatility and flexibility is what makes this aircraft so wonderful. 

"Having the C-17 workload here at the WR-ALC is a tremendous thing for the community," she added. "Being one of the newest weapon systems in our Air Force, for us to be able to do the heavy maintenance here on a recurring basis is a huge plus for the community and the base." 

Of the several dozen existing industry partnership workloads at Robins, the C-17 partnership with Boeing is the Air Force's largest. 

Geoff Wilson, Boeing director of field operations, explained the impact of the weapon system, and the continued successful partnering with the WR-ALC and its workforce. 

"This aircraft has been the backbone of air mobility, transporting people and bringing in equipment. A lot of what the team does here and the value of it isn't really seen much," he said. 

"If not for what this aircraft can do and the way it's configured internally for medevac use, if it weren't for that and the availability levels of this aircraft, a lot of people would not have survived conflict," he said. "People are alive today and can trace their recovery to the C-17 - right back to the WR-ALC and what they do."

The Robins workforce celebrated another milestone earlier this year when the C-17 fleet reached 3 million flying hours. 

"The work here has a direct correlation to the warfighter downrange," Hammerstedt said. "The quality that we put out, the maintenance that we do is going to ensure that aircraft is available for our Air Force when it needs it."