Process improvements coupled with hangar reorganization are the focus of operational-level (O-level) reform at Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 122, assigned to Commander, Strike Fighter Wing Pacific.
Based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California, the “Flying Eagles” are the wing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet replacement squadron (FRS) and the second squadron to undergo O-level reform.
During an April 2 tour of VFA-122, Maintenance Officer Cmdr. Kelly Borden described both the improvements initiated by industry partner, the Boston Consulting Group, and the squadron’s own initiatives.
“Here in the hanger we’ve changed our processes regarding how we go about fixing an airplane. We’re in tune with supply, expected completion dates, and those are driving our expected fly dates. We’re working diligently to clear obstacles and barriers to production,” Borden said.
In addition, communication throughout the squadron and with the supply chain has improved and VFA-122 is making more accurate predictions of expected flight dates, he said.
Like VFA-22 (see story on page 36), VFA-122 has adopted the one crew-team concept to return aircraft to the flight line. Historically, the squadron assigned maintenance priorities and worked them by rate.
Today, whether it’s a scheduled maintenance event, special inspection, phase inspection or unscheduled maintenance, such as an engine change, the crew lead sets the priorities and sees the maintenance through from start to finish one jet at a time, Borden said.
“While the crew leads still answer to a senior chief, crew leads tell us when they expect to complete the aircraft, which parts are holding them up or any other barriers to their production,” Borden said.
Master Chief Joseph Coleman, maintenance control supervisor at VFA-122, has seen a positive change and noticed a sense of pride in how his Sailors approach their work.
“They are taking ownership and have gotten to the point where they’re starting to identify and realize where they could do better or which processes they can improve,” Coleman said. His Sailors are also more proactive when it comes to requesting parts or equipment to meet their deadlines.
“They know they can affect change and they’re getting cross trained at the same time,” he added.
Another tool is the use of white boards that provide squadron leaders with a visual status and help the crew lead focus on what it takes to make their aircraft mission capable.
“We established those early in this process to help standardize each hanger-spot. Some of that same information is on display in our Production Control Center. So that any given time, you know whether the aircraft is on track to meet its expected flight date or not,” Borden said.
Borden took advantage of the Navy’s focus on O-level reform to incorporate changes of his own such as reorganizing the layout of his 14-space hangar by consolidating all the contractor work at the south end of the hangar and creating dedicated lines of production.
Unlike the fleet squadrons, VFA-122 has contractor maintenance people responsible for flight line support and scheduled maintenance requirements.
He reduced the clutter, and instead of labeling hangar spots by rate, each spot is now numbered and assigned a crew. Borden is also designing a model hangar to eliminate wasted time spent walking back and forth to check out tools or update paperwork.
“If we’re not on the aircraft taking care of business, we’re wasting time,” he said.
Ideally, each hangar spot will have a roll-around tool cart outfitted with common tools, a worktable and cages to store parts and panels without spreading them on the deck, he said. Each spot would also have fall protection in the form of a platform that surrounds the aircraft.
When funding is available, he wants to purchase electronic visual status displays and set up centrally located Portable Electronic Maintenance Aid (PEMA) stations where Sailors can access manuals and update their paperwork on site and avoid returning to the shop.
Long-term Down Aircraft
One of the benefits of NSS reform for VFA-122 was the reassignment of about half, approximately 60, of their long-term down aircraft and associated parts to the Naval Aviation Maintenance Center for Excellence (NAMCE). NAMCE’s mission is to rebuild the long-term down aircraft onboard NAS Lemoore and make them mission capable. (See NAMCE story on page 40.)
While the squadron’s planned authorized aircraft (PAA) was at 60, and is now at 48, the number crept up over the years, Borden said. “As an FRS, it’s our job to serve as a shock absorber for fleet squadrons. We give them trained air crew and maintainers as well as mission-capable aircraft.”
In return, fleet squadrons were giving VFA-122 the aircraft that needed major work. “Obviously, the fleet needs aircraft to win when they go to sea and deploy,” Borden said.
NAMCE was also able to help VFA-122 reconcile the thousands of parts associated with the long-term down aircraft.
“We turned excess parts into supply and eliminated the bulk of distractions that were cluttering up our hangar and flight line. It also freed up those Sailors reconciling parts to return to their shops and work in their rate,” Borden said.
Borden is proud of his relatively empty parts cage. “There are 28 parts in the cage, all accounted for and all belonging to one jet currently undergoing a planned maintenance interval.”
Like many squadron maintenance officers, Borden said he was open to discussing changes to his hangar for two reasons.
“One, it makes sense to follow commercial industry best practices since they are successful, proven methods. As the Navy integrates those concepts into our practices, it only increases our readiness,” Borden said. “Two, in order for us to continue to evolve, we have to change.”
“We eliminated and reduced all that clutter and distractions which allows us to focus on the effort at hand.”
Andrea Watters is editor of Naval Aviation News.