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Schoolhouse Innovation: Special operations maintainers get creative to keep unique aircraft flying

  • Published
  • By Nicole King
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

In a small hangar in northwest Florida, a unique maintenance enterprise is forging ahead with innovative techniques for training on and maintaining an aircraft most members of the Air Force have never seen.

Duke Field is home to the C-146A Wolfhound, a commercially derived Air Force plane, also known as a nonstandard aviation aircraft, that provides flexible, responsive and operational movement of small teams needed in support of theater special operations commands.

Citizen Air Commandos from the 919th Special Operations Wing work alongside active-duty members and contractors to keep the Wolfhound available and ready to execute missions every day in austere environments around the globe.

“We have the only C-146 aircraft in Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Force Reserve Command, and we bring to the fight a mission set where we can do small, important missions more discreetly and more effectively than the other Air Force assets can,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Harrell, aircraft maintenance unit superintendent for the 919th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

While many Reserve maintainers go to technical school with their active-duty counterparts to undergo training on a specific aircraft based at their follow-on assignment, maintainers heading to the 919th SOW to work on the Wolfhound follow a different path.

“Most people go to their specific airframe school and learn the fundamentals about that aircraft,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Tomi, 919th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. “We had to develop our own program and on-the-job training for our aircraft here. Our new Reservists go to a C-130 tech school and then come here and we’ll train them on the C-146.”

There are no military technical manuals for the Wolfhound like there are for aircraft manufactured for the military. The C-146A was originally a civilian aircraft that joined the Air Force ranks in June 2011.

At that time, maintainers from the 919th SOAMXS, the 919th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron and the 592nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron received training to pass down to new Airmen. With no Air Force C-146 schools in existence, the maintainers had to build the school from the ground up for a different kind of maintainer.

“This aircraft was built for more of an airframe and power plant-type mechanic, which is what the Air Force at Duke Field is becoming, without being truly A&P certified mechanics,” Harrell said.

A&P mechanics are certified with a more general understanding of aircraft maintenance and use that foundational knowledge to maintain civilian aircraft, Harrell said.

Since there are no military technical manuals for the Wolfhound, 90% of training for the aircraft is done by Airmen working on day-to-day operations on the flight line to get familiar with how the aircraft operates. Learning the aircraft is truly a team effort with active-duty Airmen, Reservists and contractors all working together to make sure the mission is accomplished.

“We have our active-duty brothers and sisters, who provide fresh input from different aspects of the mission and the Reserve side provides the stability of someone being in the career field for five to 10 years,” Harrell said. “On top of that, you have the systems experts (contractors) from the Sierra Nevada Corporation, who have had this program since its inception. It is just a well-rounded mission.”

The scheduling and planning section for Wolfhound maintenance also had to adjust to the commercial model. Instead of crew chiefs using the regular Air Force forms to write up maintenance and job numbers, the scheduling section tracks these items. This unique method of data entry has minimized entry errors and streamlined the maintenance process.

“Since we changed the process, we’ve seen an increase in our fully mission capable, aircraft availability and mission effectiveness rates with a better emphasis on other trends in problem areas,” Tomi said. “Being more predictive in how we see problems, how we correct them and how we can reduce those problems from happening again increases aircraft availability.”

The innovation and new ideas implemented by Citizen Air Commandos at the 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group continue to keep the C-146 ready for aircrews to accomplish their mission any time, any place. #ReserveReady #ReserveReform