By Airman Parker McCauleyMarch 20, 2019
Airmen with the 509th and 131st Maintenance Squadrons at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, developed a new process for the B-2 Spirit's phase inspection and tested it in February 2019.
The new process aligns with the Air Force and base's focus on innovation. It saves time and increases aircraft readiness for the B-2 by cutting off seven days from the current inspection process while retaining the same levels of quality and safety.
The Total Force Integration, or TFI, team comprised 10 active-duty Airmen and Guardsmen, including flight commanders Capt. Dustin C. Bagnall and 1st Lt. Chris Schomburg.
"We finished our first 14-day phase in 17 days," said Schomburg. "Two of the three extra days were due to the inclement weather - getting sent home/delayed reporting due to the snow and ice. One day was pushed due to combined maintenance troubleshooting and fixes. Without the weather, we finished in 15 days versus the traditional 21. Although we didn't we make it in 14 days, we're declaring this a success as we still decreased our phase by six days and will be using our lessons learned to improve the next phase."
As a TFI innovation, Senior Master Sgt. Philip Johnson, who is a maintenance flight superintendent with the 131st MXS, credited the success to coordinating with all agencies in the active-duty and guard maintenance squadrons as well as outside-the-box thinking.
"Within our section, collaboration was completely seamless due to the fact we are naturally integrated at all levels," said Johnson.
Bagnall said when former Secretary of Defense James Mattis made his announcement in October to raise aircraft readiness rates across the Air Force, Global Strike Command followed that directive for the B-2 Spirit.
Airmen had been working on reducing the inspection time since July 2018; inspection times were around 19 to 21 days.
In order to achieve the goal of 14 days, Bagnall said he discussed with his commander, Maj. Phillip Rehmert, about setting up a Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) event, which is an effective method of finding shortfalls.
The CPI event developed a new inspection process in about a week by examining the old process and finding various ways to improve it.
Bagnall said this allows Whiteman to maximize aircraft availability and increases the fleet readiness of the B-2, allowing additional flying days that play into the annual Flying Hour Program (FHP).
"This translates into additional training for the Ops and Maintenance Groups," said Bagnall. "More importantly, in a time where readiness is vitally important, it translates into more deployable assets here at Whiteman."
Bagnall added that all aircraft have various required inspections based on flight hours as well as those that are periodically scheduled throughout the calendar year that take time away from flying.
"Programmed Depot Maintenance (PDM) is overhaul maintenance performed on the aircraft using specialized inspection processes completed at a different facility that go beyond our technical requirements," said Bagnall.
Prior to a depot inspection, is the phase inspection, which was the focus of this innovation.
"The phase is a type of a major inspection, so we're pulling off a number of panels, pretty much every panel on the aircraft is coming off," said Bagnall. "Engines are being removed, flight controls are being inspected; we're checking electrical components, structural components along with a multitude of other areas on the aircraft as well."
Bagnall said that the inspection is there primarily to check the integrity of the aircraft.
Schomburg provided more information about how they were able to cut time off of the inspection process.
"We revamped our phase scheduling matrix so more shops could be working simultaneously on the aircraft as much as possible," said Schomburg. "We took advantage of level loading our work and consolidating our maintenance throughout our timeline so that we could become more efficient in completing phases."
He said reducing time was the result of moving various inspections to different parts of the timeline and in-house solutions that included moving some of their work-cell designs.
The teams now uses visual workflow aids, such as color-coded charts, to track milestones and maintenance status indicators.
"Rather than going out and buying a bunch of new equipment and finding new innovative technology..., a lot of our solutions were maneuvering where equipment is located, alignment of processes, cutting the fat from our current process, and receiving buy-in from other shops that impact that have a vested interest," said Schomburg.
Bagnall also highlighted one of the shops who helped streamline the phase process.
"Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) will be providing us our own AGE equipment ready line and we will be moving most the tools we use to inside of the dock so we can have instant access to these pieces of equipment," said Bagnall.
Initial reactions, additional benefits
When they were given a 14-day inspection goal, the team members were originally concerned, but by resetting their focus onto specific obstacles, they were able to overcome.
Bagnall said it helped to achieve the end result quicker and more effectively. Schomburg added that having the opportunity for the entire MXS team to work with the CPI manpower office helped them significantly on being able to critical think through reevaluating their processes and produce the best possible result.