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OKLAHOMA CITY - Maintenance, repair and overhaul are the backbone of Oklahoma's aviation industry, both commercial and military.
The 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group at Tinker Air Force Base recently proved it can strengthen that status and save money.
When the Air Force stopped outsourcing maintenance work on the KC-135 Stratofortress, it set a production goal for doing the work in-house. For fiscal year 2010, the group exceeded its aim by producing 55 aircraft, one more than its goal. That marked the highest number in 18 years.
The in-house production also means a cost savings of about $2 million per aircraft, Air Force officials said.
"The full spectrum of support from across Tinker was focused on one thing - the mechanic," said Maj. Gen. David Gillett, commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center. "My experience is if you give a mechanic what they need and get out of their way, what will happen will be pretty awesome."
Janis Wood, director of the 564th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said her group achieved its goal by looking at previous workflows, correcting what didn't work and adding some new ideas. The group not only worked harder, but worked smarter by finding faster ways to do the maintenance, she said. The new process was implemented in March 2009, she said, and employees have kept improving since then.
The maintenance group did this year's work with the employees it already had, but more have been hired to meet higher production goals in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, Wood said. Goals for those years are 58 and 64 aircraft, respectively.
Of this year's 55 aircraft maintained, 33 were delivered early. That commitment tightens the line between the military's operational force and the maintenance work, said Brig. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, commander of the 76th Maintenance Wing.
"When aircraft … leave here, we very much need to understand that aircraft could be flying in harm's way tomorrow," Litchfield. "It doesn't matter whether it's an aircraft, an engine, a component, a part - it very well could make a difference tomorrow to a battle, to someone's life. It could change the course of what's happening a long way away. We are a part of the operational Air Force."
Bob Conner, director of the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute, said the increase in maintenance production is particularly good for the KC-135s.
"The through-put increase is good for the warfighter - it gets more aircraft back out in the inventory," Conner said. "Every tail number is important, particularly for tankers.
"I think in the long run what's important is that the Air Force maintains a ready source of maintenance in-house," he said. "It's been proven over and over again that your technical competency in aircraft maintenance is very important in the long run. I think the ALC (Air Logistics Centers) are all solid in the sense that their value is well understood, and I think the Air Force will make decisions over the long run that will keep ALCs efficient and in business."