Maintainers increase combat capability of B-1

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Cassandra Locke
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Airmen at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing proved just how crucial it is to be trained and work efficiently while responding to a "catastrophic" hydraulic system failure during a B-1 Lancer combat mission.

The aircrew had to perform an emergency gear extension upon returning to base due to the nature of the emergency and maintainers quickly responded to make repairs.

"Maintainers did an outstanding job responding to the challenge within this austere environment," said Lt. Col. Michael Lawrence, the 379th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander.

The crew performed a couple of low approaches to allow the squadron flying safety officer to perform a visual inspection of the gear for a safe landing configuration. He did not see a safe condition, so the flight crew performed a "touch and go" action, which forced the gear into a safe landing position.

The crew carried out a normal landing, and when they exited the runway, the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit met them so the nose gear could be fixed. Maintainers discovered the mount pins were sheared from the gear attachment points upon an inspection and later discovered some of the hardware had been ingested by the No. 2 and 3 engines.

"The damage sustained to the aircraft was so severe that this type of repair would be a challenge at any location, especially in a deployed environment," said 1st Lt. Ron Poe, assistant 34th AMU officer in charge.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Donald Small, the 34th AMU lead production supervisor, the maintainers responded well to the challenge. Sergeant Small said the maintainers' ability to take care of the situation in a challenging environment without depot-level help shows they are capable of getting the mission done any time, any where.

"I was very pleased and proud as to how the maintainers stepped up to the challenge to repair the aircraft -- this is a true AEF success story," he said.

The sergeant said the two primary maintenance specialties involved were the hydraulic technicians and the repair and reclamation technicians.

Repair and reclamation Airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron are responsible for performing all of the heavy maintenance tasks on aircraft.

The hydraulics Airmen in the 34th AMU are responsible for removing and replacing actuators and hydraulic components. Repair and reclamation technicians were responsible for replacing the gear assembly.

"The challenge was getting the parts and required equipment shipped here," Sergeant Small said. He said another major challenge was performing the maintenance outside in 100-degree heat.

According to Colonel Lawrence, the B-1 bomber is the weapon system of choice in today's combat environment due to its load carrying capability and speed at which it gets to the fight. Recently, officials from Air Combat Command and the B-1 system program office replaced the B-1's periodic phase inspection process with an isochronal inspection process.

"Under the old way of doing business each bomber was restricted to 600 flying hours from the last phase inspection. Normal sortie generation would easily burn down the hours in a mere nine weeks (here)."

The colonel said under the home station check concept, each bomber can remain in theater an entire six months.

"The home station checks consist primarily of inspecting critical areas on the aircraft; it's basically a 'mini' phase dock inspection," said the colonel.

By conducting these inspections here, it saves thousands of dollars in rotating aircraft in and out of the theater.

"This enables the B-1s to extend their time in theater, keeping them in the fight," said Capt. Ryan Ross, 34th AMU officer in charge.

"We were able to decrease the aircraft downtime by 50 percent and increase our overall combat capability by 65 percent. That is an incredible force multiplier for the B-1 community, and we have laid the foundation for the next rotation as well as future rotations of B-1 maintainers," added the captain.

The nose gear replacement conducted in theater was no different; it provided another opportunity for success through the use of the Air Force cultural mindset on doing things smarter, Air Force Smart Operations for the 21 Century.

"The impact was huge in the replacement process, which was cultivated with sound operational risk management principles. By using in-place, experienced maintainers and maximizing specialty skill sets, success was achieved," Colonel Lawrence said.

"At first we were very reluctant to try and accomplish an entirely new process especially in the area of responsibility; however, with a tremendous amount of planning, help from home station, and exceptional support from our back shop maintenance professionals, we made it happen," Captain Ross said.

"This was a huge undertaking by us in the AOR because we have never replaced a gear assembly without assistance from depot. We definitely expanded the repair capability options for future rotations in the AOR."