|B-1s Just Going Through a ‘Phase’ |
B-1s Just Going Through a ‘Phase’
By Capt. James H. Cunningham III, 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs.
Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota -- (ACCNS) December 19, 2001 -- Imagine doing a rigorous B-1 inspection that takes 34 maintainers working around the clock 10 days to complete. Now imagine doing the same job in half the time with the same number of people.
That’s what the specialists in the 28th Maintenance Squadron’s bomber phase section have done eight times since Oct. 22.
After every 400 flight-hours, B-1s must go through a periodic inspection called "phase" where technicians inspect and repair specific items to prevent any major failures.
"Normally, a jet gets a phase once a year," said Capt. Charlie Nelson, the squadron’s maintenance supervisor. "Now, a jet that (deploys for Operation Enduring Freedom) is probably getting a phase every two months" due to the number of hours it's flying.
The team of 34 people has to remove more than 313 panels, lubricate 790 different locations on the aircraft, and inspect more than 500 items for corrosion, metal fatigue, leaks and proper operation.
"At first we were pretty overwhelmed with what we were going to have to do -- take a 10-day process down to five days. But everyone stepped up and things are going very smoothly," said Staff Sgt. David Saltzman, a shift supervisor with the section.
The section’s three eight-hour shifts now stretch to 10 or 12 hours and even into the weekends.
"Sometimes we’re not finished with everything we need to do by Friday, so our crews have to stay through Saturday and Sunday to get the jet done before the next one rolls into phase on Monday," said Nelson. "We’re on a strict schedule."
Technicians begin phase inspections on Mondays, removing the panels and looking at the critical areas on the aircraft that would need more than four days to repair. On Tuesdays, the initial inspection begins. Discrepancies are marked with chalk, minor repairs are made, and major repairs are delegated to other maintenance shops.
"By Wednesday mornings, the plane gets a ‘second look’ inspection, followed by another inspection from members of the 28th Logistics Group Quality Assurance team," said 1st Lt. Mike Ingison, a flight commander with the maintenance squadron. "On Thursdays, most of the major repairs are being completed. Finally on Fridays, the plane is reassembled, taken to the flightline for an operational check and then returned to one of the bomb squadrons."
The phase inspectors don’t do it alone. They rely on more than a dozen other 28th Maintenance Squadron and bomb-squadron shops that take care of everything from hydraulics and electrical systems to fuels and propulsion. They even build aircraft components from scratch.
"It’s a team effort across the board," said Ingison, adding that long hours and meticulous tasks normally take a toll on people, but motivation has actually increased.
"I still have volunteers wanting to work the weekends (in addition to) our assigned weekend crew," he said. "People are even coming in Sundays on their own time."
"Being able to get a jet on Monday and have it ready to go back on Friday is our goal," said Senior Airman Robert Musi, an inspector with the phase section. "Knowing that’s what’s happening about 80 percent of the time makes everyone feel good and I think that’s why everyone is stepping up."
A concern was the physical strain on people, since phase inspections generally reveal up to 160 major discrepancies.
"The main thing I worried about was fatigue, because inspecting is a tedious job. You try to find things that aren’t always obvious, you get tired, and your eyes start to blur," said Saltzman. "As a supervisor, you’re concerned that people will get tired and not be able to do the job effectively. Our quality-assurance evaluations show that’s not the case, we’re still getting zero defects. The inspectors are doing phenomenally and finding everything."
The inspectors did so well that two quality-assessment inspections done at the end of phase found no discrepancies.
"I offered to buy steaks for everyone if they got a zero-defect inspection," said Ingison. "I really didn’t think it could be done, but they hadn’t even finished the first steaks when we found out they were getting another one."
As long as B-1s are deployed, the workload for the phase inspectors will continue.
Maj. Dale Orvedahl, 28th Maintenance Squadron commander, said his people understand the vital role they are playing in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"They all understand this is what we need to do to keep the war effort going," he said. "They all understand the implications of not succeeding. I’m extremely proud of what everyone’s done."
He added that proof of their tireless efforts is seen in the skies over Afghanistan.
"It’s a testament to the success of the B-1 that all begins with the pride and dedication of the professionals that keep it flying," he said.