View Full Version : More airplanes are flying today than at the start of the wars , a large feat

10-11-2009, 06:31 PM
By Bruce Rolfsen - Staff writer
Posted : Sunday Oct 11, 2009 10:12:09 EDT

More airplanes are flying today than at the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a feat the Air Force attributes mostly to the hard work and ingenuity of maintainers.

Two-thirds of the service’s aging fleet is available to go up in the air at any time, 2 percentage points more than in 2001. The average aircraft age then was 22½ years; it’s 24 now.

“Airmen will always go the extra mile to get aircraft ready to go,” said Col. Jon Sutterfield, who tracks aircraft readiness numbers for Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va.

Still, Air Force leaders are concerned the good numbers won’t continue because there won’t be enough maintainers.

About 11,000 maintainers left the service in the drawdown, which started in 2005 and ended in mid-2008. Today, about 55,000 airmen are in aircraft maintenance career fields with the 2A Air Force Specialty Code.

Shortly before the drawdown ended, Air Force leaders went to Congress to ask for money to add airmen. A study they submitted in February 2008 to support their case recommended a force of about 330,000 active-duty airmen, not the 316,000 the drawdown aimed for. The additional 14,000 positions included 5,200 maintainers. By early this year, the number of new maintainers dropped to about 2,500 as other needs took priority.

The new maintainers, who now number roughly 3,050, begin arriving next year. Their assignments, according to the major commands:

* 1,710 to fighters

* 595 to bombers

* 370 to tankers and airlifters

* 185 to E-3 Sentries, also known as AWACS

* 28 to HH-60G Pave Hawks rescue helicopters

* 73 to EC-130 Compass Call reconnaissance planes at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

* 90 to CV-22 Ospreys, all at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.

At Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, home to the 4th Fighter Wing and 95 F-15E Strike Eagles, new maintainers are put on the flight line within days of their arrival, said Senior Master Sgt. David Seia, superintendent for the 336th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. They get on-the-job training and take weeks of orientation courses at the same time, he said.

Air Mobility Command changed deployment practices to make sure it has experienced noncommissioned officers both at home and abroad, said Gen. Arthur Lichte, who leads AMC. Maintainers head overseas at least once or twice a year.

Before the policy change, the command found itself short of supervisors at its U.S. bases because it deployed so many NCOs. Now, AMC deploys more junior airmen, keeping a supply of experienced maintainers stateside.

Airmen arrive out of technical school as 3-level maintainers. After three to four years of on-the-job training and studying, airmen can qualify as 5-level maintainers and supervise others.

The challenge for the Air Force is getting those 5-level maintainers to stay on.

Though few maintenance career fields qualified for re-enlistment incentives during the drawdown, most airmen with 2A AFSC identifiers today are eligible for a selective re-enlistment bonus when they sign up for the second enlistment. The highest bonus goes to 2A3X1 avionics specialists, who have a bonus four times the amount of the basic bonus.

The bonus is calculated by multiplying one month’s base pay by the number of years and fractions of years (whole months divided by 12) of additional obligated service, and then multiplying that sum by the SRB multiple, which ranges from 1 to 7 depending on the AFSC and experience.

Airmen get 50 percent of the bonus in a lump-sum payment a few weeks after re-enlisting, with the remaining 50 percent paid in equal increments on the anniversaries of the re-enlistment.

Only four 2A career fields — 2A7X1 aircraft metals technology, 2A7X2 non-destructive inspection, 2A7X3 aircraft structures maintenance and 2A7X5 low observable aircraft structures — are eligible for incentives at the 10- to 14-year re-enlistment mark. Those payments are at the basic level.

The bonuses make a difference, said Capt. Chad Gross, operations officer for Seymour Johnson’s 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. He cited two avionics specialists who stayed on.

Besides superior maintenance, the Air Force is hoping to preserve aircraft readiness rates by retiring about 250 fighters, then spending the saved dollars on new F-35 Lightning IIs and upgrading the remaining fighters.

Despite the wear and tear on aircraft that comes with age and deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, mission-capable rates remained stable — and even improved for smaller aircraft — between 2001, the last year before the wars started, and 2008, the most recent year that numbers are available.

The mission-capable rate for F-16 Fighting Falcons stood at 76 percent in 2008, a percentage point higher than in 2001. For F-15E Strike Eagles, the mission-capable rate dipped from 74 percent in 2001 to 73 percent in 2008. The A-10 Thunderbolt’s rate jumped from 69 percent in 2001 to 73 percent in 2008.

Mission-capable numbers for larger aircraft, though, have drifted downward because the bigger the plane, the more things that can go wrong, said Sutterfield, the mission-capable rates expert at Langley.

The B-1B Lancer bomber, with its moving wings, high-pressure hydraulic system and difficult-to-reach components, saw its mission-capable rate fall from 60 percent in 2001 to 52 percent in 2008, Air Force numbers show. Expectations for 2009 are even lower, with ACC aiming for a rate of 46 percent.

The Air Force expects the C-5 Galaxy’s mission-capable rate will rise as the new avionics are installed on all the jets and the newer B-model Galaxys get more powerful engines and other systems upgrades.

The C-5B had a mission-capable rate of 58 percent in 2008, down from 69.5 percent in 2001. Through July, the rate rose to 61 percent. The older A-models continued to lag behind with a 2008 rate of 47 percent. The 2001 rate was 51 percent. So far in 2009, the rate stands at 45 percent.

No C-5s are headed for the boneyard yet; however, Air Force leaders have said the service will retire C-5As instead of upgrading the planes if Congress approves buying more C-17s in 2010.

The Senate wants to spend $2.5 billion on 10 C-17s, but the House wants to buy only three. As of early October, Congress hadn’t resolved the difference.

At MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., the 52-year-old KC-135Rs of the 6th Air Mobility Wing are performing remarkably well. Right now, the planes have a mission-capable rate of 87 percent, said Tech. Sgt. Darwyn Lowery, a crew chief with the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Air Force-wide, the KC-135R rate this year through July was 80 percent.

The 15 tankers assigned to the 6th wing have 18,500 to 20,000 flight hours, comparatively few hours for jets so old.

However, the demands of operations over Iraq and Afghanistan along with training missions in the U.S. are accelerating the planes’ use.

When the 6th isn’t flying the tankers, its Reserve associate unit, the 927th Air Refueling Wing, uses the jets.

“Now they just about fly all the time,” Lowery said.

At MacDill Air Force Base, the maintainers focus on being efficient — and it has paid off. The maintenance squadron earned a share of the Defense Department’s 2009 award for best small maintenance unit.

The wing shortened the time for in-depth inspections of the plane from 10 days with 12-hour shifts to seven days with 10-hour shifts, said Senior Master Sgt. Gary Kundinger, a maintenance superintendent.

A variety of changes shortened the workdays — from reorganizing the storage of removed panels to giving managers more details on the status of aircraft.

The goal is to have planes ready to fly, Kundinger said.

“You’ve got a lot of guys out here dedicated to completing the mission,” he said.
New maintenance positions

By major command, here are the aircraft with new maintenance positions for fiscal 2010:
Air Combat Command

Aircraft New positions

A-10 437

B-1B 164

E-3 146

EC-130H 73

F-15C 3

F-15E 219

F-16 166

F-22 185
Air Education and Training Command

Aircraft New positions

C-130J 70

F-35 135

Air Force Special Operations Command

Aircraft New positions

CV-22 90
Air Mobility Command

Aircraft New positions

C-5 103

C-17 64

C-130 61

KC-10 43

KC-135 25
Global Strike Command

Aircraft New positions

B-2 206

B-52 223
Pacific Air Forces

Aircraft New positions

A-10 47

C-130 6

C-17 6

E-3 40

F-15 147

F-16 43

F-22 91

HH-60 2

KC-135 7
U.S. Air Forces in Europe

Aircraft New positions

A-10 45

F-15C 37

F-15E 109

HH-60 26

Source: Air Force

10-12-2009, 11:49 AM
Interesting. Too bad they chopped the F-22.