Robins officials help fix vital warfighters' equipment issue
by Wayne Crenshaw
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
12/10/2009 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS) -- A Robins Air Force Base team is working to resolve a top equipment issue for warfighters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
About a dozen people in the 642nd Combat Sustainment Group are involved with developing specifications for a redesign of flightline air conditioners that are critical to the operation of aircraft in high temperatures.
Maj. Gen. Polly A. Peyer, the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center commander, highlighted the effort in her talk to hundreds of industry representatives at the annual Requirements Symposium recently.
"The No. 1 complaint of our warfighters in theater is flightline air conditioners," she said.
Contracts for the production of redesigned units are expected to be signed late next year, with production expected in late 2012 or early 2013.
The diesel operated units are used to keep aircraft cool on the ground, which is vitally important to the avionics on board. Without proper cooling, the aircraft have to get aloft and fly around for an hour or more so that the internal cooling system can cool the plane enough to allow the avionics to be switched on. That can lead to serious delays in the execution of missions and even mission cancellation.
The problem is that the current units are designed to operate in temperatures of 125 to 135 degrees, yet flightline temperatures at bases in Southwest Asia can get as high as 140 degrees. When the units get too hot, they automatically shut down.
The problem has been so troublesome that last year the center staff made the unusual move of sending over a team that included two civilians to figure out how to resolve it. They came up with ways to get by with the existing units, but with the contract for the current design expiring, center officials are looking for a redesign.
The units come in large and small versions, depending on the needs of the aircraft. Harry Smith, an engineer in the 642nd CBSG, is the lead engineer for developing the specifications on the new small version. He's also one of the civilians who went to the area of responsibility last year to work on the problem. He said the trip has been useful in the process of writing new specifications.
"It's helping us a great deal because we understand how these units are practically being used in the field," Mr. Smith said.
That experience also showed him the importance of having units that will require less maintenance than the current units, which is an important requirement in the specifications for the new units.
Maj. Wesley Cox, commander of the 578th Combat Sustainment Squadron that has responsibility for the units, has a year of experience in Afghanistan where he saw the problem firsthand.
"When you talk Afghanistan, you are talking a very austere environment," he said. "Everybody is working together to make sure we are taking care of these warfighters because they don't have time to go searching for tools and constantly cater to machinery that isn't designed properly."
Major Cox said the new units will be subjected to "robust testing" to be certain that they will work properly in a harsh environment.
Paula Fleming, the 578th CBSS Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight chief, gave a briefing at the symposium on the small units. A few dozen industry representatives sat in on the briefing. She told the group that the contract will call for production of a minimum of 20 units per month.
"More if you can, because we really need these units," she said.
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