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A-10 modifications speed up to support warfighters

by Bill Orndorff
309th Maintenance Wing

3/26/2007 - HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AFNEWS) -- The Air Force will soon benefit from an A-10 Thunderbolt II milestone achieved here in March. Personnel from the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron completed a precision engagement modification on an A-10 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," said Greg Hoffman, the 571st 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 time to sit there and flow out how to best lay it out, so you get a couple of 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 many new and accelerated programs, there were challenges with parts supportability from vendors as well as maintenance procedures.

Lockheed Martin Systems Integration from Owego, N.Y., is the prime contractor," Mr. Hoffman said. 

"When you accelerate a program on us and accelerate our aircraft flow, it accelerates the delivery schedule as well. 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," he said.

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

"Our squadron almost doubled in size with the addition of this modification," said Mr. Hoffman. "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."

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

The 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 571st AMXS to meet its goal of 70 A-10 Precision Engagement modifications this year.

"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 less than 4,000 hours and is well on its 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."

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