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'Best Kept Secret In The Army'

February 15, 2012

By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- One of the Army's best kept secrets just got a higher profile.

The commander of the Aviation and Missile Command's Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, made appearances in a big way last week to tout the accomplishments of the only functional aviation depot within the Department of Defense. Col. Christopher Carlile spoke Feb. 8 at the Worldwide Aviation Logistics Conference held at Bob Jones Auditorium and later that day at the Army Aviation Association of America's Cribbins Aviation Product Symposium at the Von Braun Center.

And, in both venues, Carlile outlined the depot's mission and emphasized that it is celebrating its 50th anniversary in providing high quality modification, repair and overhaul for Army aviation and foreign military sales.

"This is the best kept secret in Army aviation," Carlile said. "This depot began in 1961 and its growth has been exponential. We are now the world's largest helicopter repair facility."

The depot began as the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in the 1940s. It was developed to train Navy aviators to fly seaplanes and carrier-based aircraft, and to operate an aircraft overhaul and repair facility. It closed in 1959 and remained idle for two years, when the Army took possession of its hangars and other buildings to repair and maintain the Army's fleet of four airframes and three engines. The first Huey UH-1 helicopter was overhauled in 1962 and by 1968 the facility was in full operation.

In 2002, the depot modified, repaired and overhauled 52 aircraft. Today, that number is at 103 a year, the most the depot can accept in any given year. Engine production work has grown from 542 in 2003 to about 930 a year. Blade production work has gone from 890 in 2003 to 2,900 a year today while component production -- including spindles, power generation/control systems, skin assemblies and aft bell crank supports -- has gone from 20,759 in 2003 to an expected 28,030 in 2012. In addition, the depot has the capability for making the aircraft parts it can no longer purchase, including some 280 parts belonging to the Kiowa Warrior.

"This isn't the same depot of the '90s," its commander said.

Carlile's own military career has long been associated with the Corpus Christi Army Depot. He has been a maintenance officer for 23 years. He joined the Army 27 years ago as an enlisted Soldier.

"I picked up aircraft from this depot all through the 1990s, and I've commanded there since 2009," he said.

The south Texas depot has gone from doing $250,000 in aircraft modifications, repairs and overhauls in 2000 to $2.6 billion a year today, representing a 10-fold increase in 11 years. In addition, it trains more than 1,200 National Guard and Reserve Soldiers every year, and conducts the Army's analysis of aircraft accidents. The depot employs 6,000 civilians, of which 56 percent are veterans. Its facilities are 2.2 million square feet and located on 163 acres.

"In many ways, it's like I'm the CEO of this business, this civilian organization. We report to the Aviation and Missile Command, which is part of the conglomerate known as the Army Materiel Command. The Soldiers and taxpayers are our shareholders," Carlile said.

"You won't find a work force that's more patriotic. It's the most patriotic I've ever seen, and I've been around the world a few times. These employees truly care about the Soldier."

With today's rotary wing aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems flying in unheard numbers -- 90 to 100 hours a month per system -- the work of the Corpus Christi Army Depot has become invaluable for ensuring those aircraft remain air worthy.

During his command, Carlile has focused on four areas -- financial stability, employee well-being, customer satisfaction and quality, and organizational improvement.

The depot's work makes a big difference in aircraft performance now and into the future. Providing quality modifications, repairs and overhauls with lower prices than new systems and with a faster turnaround is the mission of the depot.

"These aircraft aren't going to continue to fly if we don't get it right," Carlile said.

The depot also saves the Army money. It costs about $6.7 million to repair a crash-battle damaged Black Hawk versus the cost of $17 million for a new one; $7.7 million to repair an Apache versus $29 million for a new one; and $8.2 million to repair a Kiowa versus $13 million for a new one.

"We've had a savings of $16 billion between 2003 and 2011," Carlile said. "We're doing the best we can to drive down production cost. We are lowering the cost of Army aviation. For example, we repaired the cabin floor of a CH-47 (Chinook) at a cost avoidance of $233,150 in manpower and got that bird back into flight two months earlier than expected."

The depot's aviation mechanics training center has reduced quality defects by 12 percent, creating a cost avoidance of $1.2 million in three months.

And in the area of unmanned aircraft, the depot has recently completed a Shadow modification at a cost of $23,000 per engine versus $500,000 for a new engine.

"With the right tools, right help and right tech data, we can help you get it done," the colonel told his audience of Soldiers, Army civilians and industry representatives. "The reason we are here is because Soldiers are in the fight. It is economical to rebuild."

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