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AFSO 21: Innovations for T-38 Maintenance
Robert Wade, 47th Maintenance Directorate chief of data management and Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century program facilitator, explains the team’s wall diagram detailing the current status of T-38 maintenance procedures to Col. Tom Murphy, 47th Flying Training Wing commander during an AFSO 21 meeting at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 6, 2013. AFSO 21 is a multi-step continuous process improvement system developed to review the processes used by organizations for waste and unproductive procedures. The tool was used to review how the T-38 is maintained at Laughlin from start to finish with new inspection guidelines added that risked impacting Laughlin’s mission of training world class pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nathan Maysonet)
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AFSO 21: Innovations for T-38 Maintenance

Posted 2/20/2013   Updated 2/22/2013 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Nathan Maysonet
47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

2/20/2013 - LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Using the Air Force's Smart Operations for the 21st Century Program, members from the 47th Maintenance Directorate and 47th Operations Group developed a plan to trim hours required to maintain Laughlin's aging fleet of T-38 Talon aircraft.

The eight-member team spent last week using AFSO 21's multi-step, continuous process improvement system to review how the T-38 is maintained from start to finish when new inspection guidelines were added risking impact to Laughlin's mission of training world-class pilots.

"This was the perfect opportunity to put a team together and further advance our innovative Team XL culture to improve our processes," said Col. Tom Murphy, 47th Flying Training Wing Commander.

"Adopted by the Air Force and based on private sector Knowledge, AFSO 21 is geared at finding wasted efforts in how organizations work and developing innovative means of improving those processes," explained Robert Wade, 47th MX Chief of Data Management and AFSO 21 Facilitator.

AFSO 21's innovative process was critical in confronting an issue facing Laughlin maintainers. The T-38 fleet is more than 40 years old, and age breeds problems that can impede pilot training.

"As an aircraft flies through the air, its frame flexes," said Philip Pulliam, 47th MX Strategic Plans and Programs Manager and AFSO 21 Team Leader. "The metal begins to harden as it ages and becomes brittle and begins to crack. With no replacement on the horizon for the T-38, a solution had to be found."

"To keep Laughlin's current fleet operational, the T-38 is required to undergo an inspection every 450 hours. At the Air Force's busiest airfield, this number is quickly hit," said Pulliam.

New inspection requirements mandated by new technical data to counter the airframe problems growing in the aging fleet were tacked on to Laughlin's current periodic inspections and that's when the maintainers hit a snag.

"The minor periodic inspections can be simple and take only seven to eight days. However, more comprehensive, periodic inspections require the T-38 to be grounded for close to a month. The additional inspections added close to 45 days of work to the already time-consuming periodic inspections, making it impossible for the maintainers to fully support the wing's T-38 flying-hour requirements," said Pulliam.

That's when Michael Johnson, 47th FTW Director of Maintenance, called for the AFSO 21 event to find a way to complete the inspections while ensuring pilot training went unaffected.

"I directed this AFSO 21 event to solve an equation consisting of unequal parts of workload, manpower, and time. The new inspection increased the amount of time and workload without providing for additional manpower to complete these inspections on our T-38 aircraft," said Johnson. "The AFSO 21 process is perfectly suited to examine in detail all elements of that equation and balance them to where we can once again fully support the T-38 flying mission."

The team met together on Jan. 18 and 25, for two preliminary meetings before officially beginning their week-long rapid improvement event.

Pulliam explained that the initial events allowed the team members, who each play a part in maintaining the T-38, to see the complete process from beginning to end.

"We looked at the plane from 'chock to chock'," said Pulliam. "From when the aircraft lands until it was ready for another mission, we looked at everything to find the best way to implement. The wheels were turning and the team saw where things were working and where they weren't."

From Feb. 4-8, on a long sheet of paper stretching from wall to wall, the team began placing countless little yellow sticky notes detailing each individual process in the T-38 maintenance chain, which provided the members a vivid and daunting picture, explained Pulliam.

The team reviewed each step, discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each and brainstormed ideas on how to make them better. What they found was a lot of waste that could be trimmed from the process and procedures that could be improved by simply shuffling the order in the chain, said Pulliam.

"The process identified areas where there was no value added, meaning non-production time on the aircraft," said Pulliam. "Things like waiting around for paint and sealant to dry which can take 12 to 18 hours, or moving the aircraft from one location to another when you could simply consolidate the pieces in one location."

With each new idea the long sheet of notes began to shift and shorten, numbers were written indicating hours saved by each shift in the process. And when all was said and done they had made an impact.

The overall process had cut nearly in half, from more than 600 hours to about 300; a 48 percent improvement, explained Pulliam.

Already, changes are being put in place to revitalize T-38 maintenance with the final pieces scheduled to be in place by August. Hanger Two will become the focal point for T-38 inspections; the structural inspection will be kept separate from the regular T-38 periodic inspections, new tools will be purchased reducing time spent on removing paints, sealants and fasteners, and numerous work steps were ordered, helping to reduce unproductive time, explained Pulliam.

Wade, who hosted several AFSO 21 events in the past, commended the group for their work, how smoothly the event went and their quick implementation of recommended ideas.

"This team did some amazing things and kept moving to logical and interesting countermeasures to the problem," said Wade. "The team tested many ideas during the week to see if their ideas could meet reality. They were enthusiastic."

AFSO 21 did more than just reduce maintenance time. The team's work potentially saved Laughlin and the Air Force countless dollars in line with the Air Force's Cost Conscious Culture, explained Pulliam.

"This defined the kind of innovation we need in today's environment and we are challenging every unit to make sure they are doing everything in the most efficient and effective way possible," said Col. Murphy.

The AFSO 21 Team showcased Laughlin's level of ingenuity and resolve needed in today's fiscal climate.

"By thinking outside of the box and examining how we use our resources to be most effective, the team managed to reduce the time in half to complete the new inspection requirements," said Johnson. "They are to be commended for putting aside their preconceptions, looking at the process with fresh perspectives, and working together to solve this very difficult problem."

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