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Vehicle maintainers roll into digital age

by Senior Airman Brigitte N. Brantley
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

11/15/2012 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea (AFNS) -- Although many of the technological innovations the U.S. military makes are large scale, staying up to speed can also require small, yet significant, changes at every level, which streamline processes for the workforce.

The 8th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management flight at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, took a technological step forward earlier this year when it transitioned from paper technical orders to digital versions on tablet computers.

With more than 600 TOs ranging from 600 to 1,800 pages, this translates into each of the 19 tablets holding upward of 625,000 pages. And that's before taking into account any local operating instructions or additional references.

"This is the biggest change in the VM career field I've seen in 24 years," said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Keyser, 8th LRS flight chief. "As far as I know, no other LRS flight has yet to transition over. We're leading the charge and hope to influence other units in the same direction."

Senior Airman Andrew Radcliff, 8th LRS tech support specialist, said tablets cut down dramatically on time and paper resources.

"Previously, when we had to troubleshoot a vehicle, we looked up the TO on a reference sheet," said Radcliff. "After locating it amongst hundreds of manuals, we would then spend 30 to 45 minutes searching for a part or procedure in that TO."

On the tablets, it's a matter of just minutes searching via the built-in search function.

In the past, when a TO needed to be updated, publishers would send the changes by snail mail to every unit. If the shop didn't have a new TO on hand, it could take up to 30 days to arrive in the mail and leave a vehicle out of commission for that time, according to Radcliff.

Now, new TOs are updated weekly and every tablet is auto-synched at the end of each day.

"When I first was given responsibility over TOs, it was just weeks away from a major unit inspection," said Radcliff, one of the Airmen responsible for making the transition happen. "We had about a decade worth of TOs that hadn't been properly taken care of. The only way to get inspection-ready in time was to go paperless.

"With encouragement and support from my leadership, we were able to make it happen," he added. "Now, it's virtually impossible to get written up for our TOs not being current."
Altogether, the 19 tablets and two laptops cost about $15,000. A paper TO in the past cost $600 to $700 per volume, with some TOs having multiple volumes.

The tablets are less hefty -- they weigh less than two pounds each, while similar rugged laptops start at six pounds. Each is also encased in a protective covering, which allows them to lie on an engine while a mechanic is working on the vehicle. The protected tablets can endure drops and exposure to the grease, dirt and corrosive chemicals that are part of a mechanic's daily job.

Such tablets have already been incorporated in some other units, notably by aircrew who also benefit from the increased efficiency of not having numerous paper TOs.

In 1945, Theodore von Kármán, famous aerodynamics contributor and engineer, told Gen. Hap Arnold that "only a constant inquisitive attitude toward science and a ceaseless and swift adaptation to new developments can maintain the security of this nation."

Although going paperless is a relatively small change in the scope of Air Force technology, it shows that units at all levels are ceaselessly moving forward to adapt to new developments.

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