Robins 'War Wagons' bring maintenance to warfighters

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78 ABW/PA
When the Department of Defense has an aircraft in need of repair and the situation requires a traveling repairman, it looks to Robins Air Force Base and the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group to come to the rescue.

The group maintains a one-of-a-kind resource, two War Wagons, which deploy around the world in support of the warfighter.

The 37-foot long, tractor-trailer combinations can either drive to areas across the continental U.S. or travel as aircraft cargo on a C-17 Globemaster III or C-130 Hercules to destinations around the world such as Kadena, Japan; Hewan, Egypt, or Mildenhall, U.K.

"If you can land a C-130 there, then we can come to you," said Allan Widener, sheet metal bond mechanic, who is one of two Robins mechanics certified to drive and travel as a mechanic with the War Wagon.

The wagons were designed to bring the maintenance jobs they were doing on the production line to the field environment, said Tom Rackley, project manager and engineer for the War Wagon.

The field maintenance is drastically different from depot maintenance, because safety precautions such as draining and purging fuel are not an option in the field, said Rich Frey, deputy director of the 574th Commodities Maintenance Squadron.

The wagons can leave at a moments notice and workers prepare cargo to meet the needs of each repair call before it departs. Some of the repairs the War Wagon can accomplish include bolted, bonded or composite repairs on any type of DOD airframe. Along with repairing DOD aircraft, the War Wagon has also done work on Foreign Military Sales aircraft. But when Air Force Special Operations Command calls, Mr. Frey says they take priority.

"For every work order, we set the War Wagon up and get it ready to complete the task," Mr. Rackley said. "Every time we go on a repair, we have to add special equipment and tools for the job. This thing never goes with an identical makeup."

The War Wagon is 100 percent self-sufficient and can sustain a six-day mission.

"We have enough equipment and power to work the aircraft on both sides with two mechanics on each side," Mr. Widener said.

The equipment can also be used to repair two aircraft simultaneously because all the tools are duplicated to allow two crews to work round-the-clock to complete needed repairs. "We designed as much capability as we can into that unit," Mr. Rackley said.

One of the biggest challenges for the traveling repair truck is timing. The truck has to arrive before the aircraft is slotted for the maintenance, because the warfighter can't afford for the aircraft to be out of commission any longer than scheduled.

"We want to get in and get out as quick as possible for the warfighter," Mr. Frey said.

The key to the War Wagons' success has been the constant updating of the vehicle to make sure it has the most updated tools and equipment to complete the required maintenance and return the aircraft to its mission.

One of the most impressive things about the War Wagon is since it replaced its predecessor in 1996 the unit has not failed. The second unit was added in 1999 and both units have remained 100 percent operational since their first trip, Mr. Rackley said.

For some repairs, however, it is not cost-effective to bring a War Wagon. In cases like this, equipment and tools are stripped from a War Wagon, palletized and shipped to the location where they are used by the Depot Field Teams.

However, presently the 402 Commodities Maintenance Group is working to fill pallets for the teams without needing to strip equipment and tools from the War Wagons.

"We just never want to bring the War Wagons down. We are doing this to keep the War Wagons fully operational and ready to deploy," Mr. Frey said.

He added, by having pallets stocked and ready to deploy the team is able to achieve more maintenance calls in support of the warfighter.

"Its all about taking care of the warfighter, so they can take care of business," Mr. Frey said.