MXS Airmen get innovative, save AF dollars

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mackenzie Richardson
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Fairchild Airmen use early generation equipment and aircraft every day to support the global air refueling mission; most of it built and manufactured over 50 years ago. This equipment requires precious care, expert craftsmanship and innovative maintenance to stay mission capable.

The 92nd Maintenance Squadron Hydraulics Flight and Fabrication Flight are two maintenance back shops who specialize in keeping early generation equipment and aircraft delivering effective warfighter capabilities at the right place at the right time.

In January, hydraulics Airmen were facing a challenge: a multi-point refueling system, used to refuel coalition aircraft, had been grounded due to a coupling needing to be replaced. The main inlet fuel coupling is an essential part of the system, creating a seamless flow of fuel from the fuel line into the MPRS pod.

The early generation part is no longer kept on the shelves and has a six to eight month waiting period. Instead of waiting for the coupling to arrive, the hydraulics flight partnered with the fabrication flight to find an innovative, effective and timely solution.

“Before we could manufacture this coupling for the hydraulics shop, we first had to show we had the capability to reverse engineer it,” said Staff Sgt. Steven Doucette, 92nd MXS aircraft metals technology shift lead. “We measured the existing piece and created a blueprint. We then used a program to turn those dimensions and measurements into a code that the Computer Numerically Controlled lathe could use to create the piece.”

As the first aircraft metals technology Airmen to ever attempt to reverse engineer the part, Doucette and Staff Sgt. Steven Bultemeier, 92nd MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman, had nothing but their Air Force training and metals technology knowledge to guide them.

The entire reverse engineering process took Doucette and Bultemeier three weeks to have a finished product. They then submitted an Engineering Technical Assistance Request and within a matter of days, the shop was approved to manufacture the MPRS coupling.

From start to finish, each coupling takes approximately eight hours to manufacture, nearly 5,000 hours less than ordering the part from a manufacturer. It also saved the Air Force approximately $75,000 by no longer having to order the low-fail item in bulk quantities.

“Because of the fabrication flight’s success with reverse engineering this part, we are able to ‘green’ up the MPRS pod and get it back into service,” said Master Sgt. Marcia Regula, 92nd MXS hydraulics section chief. “When we have a pod down for something as simple as a gouge, the ability to have it manufactured just across the hall, is huge.”

The fabrication flight also reverse engineered a specialized saddle washer for the hydraulics flight, another item imperative to a properly functioning MPRS pod. The washers are used to mount the coupling and must be ordered from manufacturers in bulk. As a low-fail item, ordering the saddle washers in bulk would be ineffective and cost the Air Force tens of thousands of dollars.

“Knowing we are able to continue to operate and care for an early generation aircraft, gives our Air Force and our partners peace of mind,” said Airman 1st Class Steele Denton, 92nd MXS aircraft metals technology journeyman. “There are maintainers in their corner; Airmen they are able to rely on. If a part breaks or a part needs to be manufactured, metals technology is on it.”

Through expert craftsmanship and innovative thinking, these Airmen not only put a vital Air Force asset back in the fight, but proved again that Team Fairchild contributes in many capacities to rapid global mobility.