Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base, Ala. --
When a part is inoperable with no set of repair instructions and there are not any, or very few, available in the supply chain a select group of technicians in the Air Force Repair Enhancement Program (AFREP) finds a way to fix them.
Air Force maintenance professionals must abide by stringent repair processes to ensure parts are fully operational and installed correctly. Technical orders, technical data, and wiring schematics are among the required publications that instruct maintenance personnel on exactly how to do their job and the order in which to do it. The team consults current maintenance publications to transform inoperable parts with no specific instructions into fully functional components ready for service in aircraft.
“AFREP is an innovative opportunity for maintainers to fix parts that do not have a repair process,” said Master Sgt. AJ Robinson, maintenance superintendent, 99th Air Refueling Squadron. “This program has several advantages as it puts mission-critical parts back into the supply system, the unit, as opposed to a contractor, gets paid for doing it and it’s a faster process having us do it.”
Robinson co-manages the base AFREP team with Master Sgt. Nikolas Clevenger, avionics technician, 117th Maintenance Squadron. They started the program in March 2019 after they began talking about repairing integrated hand controllers which Clevenger repairs. That part directs the movement of the aircraft. Robinson previously helped write a repair manual for the component before being assigned to
Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Base. These conversations evolved into the creation of AFREP as Robinson had been the AFREP manager at Kadena Air Base and Clevenger became interested in its possibilities.
“Before Master Sgt. Robinson came here we would just order the parts to repair a component and we were not getting money for it,” said Clevenger. “We didn’t have an AFREP account set up at that time and now, as opposed to the Air Force going out and buying a new part, we get the money as a unit.”
Since its inception, the program has repaired 17 parts, saved base units approximately $153,000, and kept those funds within the Air Force. That money has been used on base to buy rain and cold weather gear for airmen, maintainer tools, and vehicles to respond to pre-flight maintenance problems in addition to base facility repairs. The AFREP program and the maintainer’s innovation have increased flying efficiency and helped their fellow airmen.
“There is pride in knowing that our work funds equipment that increases mission effectiveness,” said Robinson.
The challenges maintainers have in keeping a KC-135 mission capable are universal. Finding parts for an aircraft that is approximately 60 years old becomes more difficult because manufacturers stop making parts for it. Refurbishing available parts are more important for the KC-135 as fewer resources are put into the aircraft and are directed toward new airframes. In addition to its impact here, the repair capabilities of the local AFREP team can also touch any base.
“When there is a damaged part that is put in the supply system we, as an AFREP program, can reach out and have it sent to us,” said Clevenger. “Once we fix it, the part gets put back in the supply chain and any unit in the Air Force needing that part can get that repaired part.”
The AFREP team can also find more cost-effective ways to outsource a repair. They may also find vendors willing to fix a part for a fraction of what it would cost from a government contractor since the contractors do not provide repair services and only produce new parts.
The wing was in need of anti-ice ducts and had to “cross-cannibalize” ducts in order to make another aircraft airworthy. Cross cannibalization is the process of taking parts from one aircraft and installing them into another. Buying them from a contractor was projected to take 30 days to fill. The AFREP team identified a vendor who could repair the ducts within two weeks in addition to significant savings to the unit. New ducts had a value of approximately $18,000 and AFREP was able to receive a fully operational repaired duct within two weeks for a cost of $1,300.
The repair was completed in April 2022 and was a massive success.
“That was a highlight as it was the first AFREP contract repair on a KC-135,” said Robinson. “We are aiming for it being the first of many.”
The AFREP team received an assist in this transaction as 99th ARS commander Lt. Col. Alfredo Balderas hand delivered the duct to the out-of-state vendor. Balderas was on leave and brought the part to the vendor while vacationing in Texas. After the air duct repair, the part was shipped back to base.
Both Clevenger and Robinson believe local vendors provide exceptional value. Repairing parts at local vendors can provide both cost savings and time savings over buying parts new.
The 117th Air Refueling Wing AFREP team is also assisting a unit at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in starting up an AFREP program and communicating regularly with an established AFREP team at Fairchild Air Force Base.
“We are interconnected and we help each other out by throwing ideas out or just sharing information,” said Clevenger. “If there are more units in the program there are more ideas and more functional capabilities in terms of repairing parts.”