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Commentary: Four pillars of maintenance help maintain healthy fleet

by Maj. Christine M. Byers
6th Maintenance Operations Squadron commander

Gen. John P. Jumper, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, once said, "…I believe the two hardest things we do in our Air Force are flying and fixing our weapon systems….maintaining the health of our aging fleets balanced with the need to produce sorties that help win wars is a core capability that requires focus and proficiency."

Personally, I'm pretty passionate about maintenance, so I could go on and on about the different leading and lagging indicators alone. Hopefully someday we'll be able to educate the entire Air Force about the ins and outs of aircraft maintenance, but until that day comes, I want to give all of you a quick down and dirty on maintenance.

General Jumper's focus on aircraft maintenance as an Air Force core capability led to the development of the Senior Leaders Maintenance Course. This course was designed to educate our senior leaders from the group commander up about aircraft maintenance, operations and flightline support. This course has been modified for the next level of leadership into the Wing Maintenance Course so we can educate our squadron commanders, operations officers and superintendents on fundamental or key maintenance concepts. These courses teach non-maintenance leaders how maintenance is organized and how we interact with supply. They indoctrinate our senior leaders into such concepts as mission capable rates, delayed discrepancies and cannibalization rates.

All of these things are very important but everything you need to know about good aircraft maintenance can be narrowed down to four fundamentals: training, tools, technical orders and documentation. I call these four fundamentals the four pillars of maintenance because if your maintenance organization develops a problem in even one of these key concepts, the health and safety of your entire aircraft fleet is in jeopardy.

Training - This is a paramount and fundamental aspect of every Air Force specialty, so it should be no surprise that it's also vital to a healthy maintenance organization. It's a little too easy sometimes to let training slip to the back burner and only worry about launching and recovering aircraft. That's fine for short periods but you have to keep in mind that every time you let training slip to tomorrow or next week/month, you fix and launch your jets today by mortgaging the future health of your fleet.

Tools - This is a two-fold fundamental. You need to use the right tool for the job and you need to maintain tool control. It's everybody's responsibility to make sure our folks have and are using the right tool for the job; it's easy to get injured or damage equipment when we don't. Tool control is imperative. Every tool on the flightline is controlled through the tool accountability system. Every tool is etched with an identifying nine-digit equipment identification designator consisting of numbers and letters to identify which wing, unit, shop and consolidated tool kit it belongs to.

If you ever have the chance to look inside a CTK you'll notice that every tool is also secured in form-fitting foam. This helps our folks quickly inventory their tools when they check out the CTK from the support section and to re-inventory the tools again after they finish a job. This all may sound like we're a little obsessed with keeping track of our tools. We are, but for good reason. We can't afford to accidentally leave a tool rattling around somewhere inside an aircraft; planes crash and people die for careless acts like that.

Technical Orders - The second word in technical orders is "order." They are a lawful order and there is no reason on God's green earth to diverge from tech data without a depot engineering authorization. There can be numerous steps to any given maintenance task and our technicians can't afford to do the job from memory. It's easy to forget something after step 42 and the numerous steps can, and do change often. Even if somebody has been working the same aircraft or piece of equipment for 20 years, the technical order has not remained the same for that 20-year period.

We receive literally hundreds of technical order updates every week. Some of these updates contain cautions and warnings to prevent our technicians from injuring themselves or possibly damaging equipment or aircraft. That's why our folks have to do the job safely, "by the book," with the book, every time.

Documentation - The job isn't done until the paperwork is complete. Everything we do on an aircraft must be documented in the aircraft forms and in the core automated maintenance system for mobility aircraft. This documentation helps us to keep track of what's going on with the aircraft historically so we can identify any negative trends.

It also it helps us to keep track of current jobs. That way if a particular job has to be turned over to the next shift, a road map of everything that has been opened or disconnected to facilitate the job is provided and the technician will know whet needs to be closed or reconnected before the job is completed. In short, it helps us to avoid "forgetting" anything.

Most maintainers reading this are probably saying that there's a lot more to maintenance than just training, tools, technical orders and documentation, and they would be right. In fact, the Senior Leaders Maintenance Course takes a full week to teach our wing commanders and group commanders everything they need to know about aircraft maintenance. Here at the wing, we're going to take a couple of days to teach our squadron commanders, operations officers and squadron superintendents an abbreviated version of the same information. There is a lot more to good aircraft maintenance, but if you can keep these four fundamentals in line, you're well on you way to maintaining a healthy aircraft fleet.

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