MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
Members of the 908th Maintenance Group have had to find ways to stay busy since the 908th Airlift Wing divested the last of its C-130 Hercules aircraft Friday, April 8, 2022, in preparation for its new mission as the formal training unit for the MH-139A Grey Wolf Helicopter.
Some maintainers volunteered for a deployment to Europe. Others have gone on orders to support other C-130 equipped units throughout the Air Force. Some have started schools that transition them from C-130 maintainers to helicopter maintainers. Others have worked with sister units to send maintenance equipment designed for C-130s to other units in need.
With the wing’s new mission statement and top priority being, “Develop and Deliver Multi-Capable Airmen,” 908th Maintenance Group Quality Assurance Superintendent, Chief Master Sgt. Quincey Hester, came up with an idea that would keep the Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 908 MXG productive while also gaining new skills and credentials.
The idea was to create an avenue for maintainers to earn an Airframe and Powerplant Certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. That idea is now a reality as the first class started Monday, November 7, 2022, at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.
There are six members currently enrolled in the program, all from the 908th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. Five students are studying the full course, with one member studying specifically for the powerplant portion.
With the 908th’s new mission, the wing’s maintainers will be in one of two career fields, either a MH-139A Grey Wolf Helicopter Mechanical maintainer or a Grey Wolf Technical maintainer. A Mech maintainer combines the previous specialties of crew chiefs, hydraulics specialists, and engines/propulsion specialists; A Tech maintainer combines the previous specialties of communication and navigation systems specialists, electrical and environmental systems specialists, and guidance and control systems specialists.
The six students are Master Sgt. Matthew Marshall, Tech. Sgt. Jason Gessler, Tech. Sgt. Johnathon Hall, Tech. Sgt. Clive Johnson, Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Munkachy, all MH-139A Grey Wolf Mech maintainers and Master Sgt. Kevin Garrett, a MH-139A Grey Wolf Tech maintainer.
“Chief Master Sgt. Hester came up with the idea more than a year ago,” said Master Sgt. Scott Tucker, 908th Maintenance Group analysis noncommissioned officer in charge, and 908th A&P program director and coordinator. “He has been the driving force for the 908 A&P Program.”
“This idea came about because the MXG needed some form of professional development for our maintainers during this gap between the loss of our C-130s and when we actually have the MH-139s on the ramp,” explained Hester.
"This idea came about because the MXG needed some form of professional development for our maintainers during this gap between the loss of our C-130s and when we actually have the MH-139s on the ramp." Chief Master Sgt. Quincy Hester
At the time, Hester, and other leaders, were also under a belief that the FAA A&P certification could potentially be mandatory for maintainers, as the requirements are continuing to be established daily for the new aircraft and the Airmen that will be tasked with maintaining it.
“It was also initially speculated that only A&P certified technicians would have the opportunity to work on the MH-139s once they arrived,” recalled Hester. “But we have since learned that isn't a requirement.”
Having the potential requirement removed, leadership still felt it was an advantageous program for wing maintainers because of the value it adds to the members that take the opportunity.
“I pushed for this because I believe this program could be a huge recruiting and retainability tool for the 908th,” explained Hester. “We have to take into consideration that our mission is completely changing, and maintenance personnel will no longer be afforded the same [temporary duty] opportunities that we've grown accustomed to with the C-130s, so we need some enticing ideas to make people want to stay with our unit. Also, this shows that, as leaders, we are concerned with the professional and personal development of our people. We want the 908th MXG to be the best MH-139 maintenance unit in the Air Force with the best and most qualified workforce.”
Beginning the Process
“Our group met with representatives from the Community College of the Air Force at Maxwell-Gunter Annex in March 2022,” said Tucker.
What could have seemed to be a nearly impossible task, has turned out to be a smoother process than most would have guessed.
“Like any new project, building the foundation has been a give-and-take process in terms of deciding on equipment, location, curriculum, and school timeframe boundaries,” explained Tucker. “When you consider we only started the concrete essentials in late March it has gone relatively smooth. It helps that we have CCAF and 908 AW support.”
“The meeting [in March, 2022] was between the members of CCAF Credentialing and the 908 MXG,” recalls CCAF Joint Service FAA Airframe and Powerplant Program Manager Tech. Sgt. Patrick McParlane. “We discussed the transition of the 908th C-130 Hercules aircraft to the MH-139A Grey Wolf helicopter. The 908th wanted to work with CCAF to create an A&P course that could occupy some of the down time during the transition; while, assisting their Airmen in obtaining an industry recognized credential.”
Recognizing the potential this program could have, McParlane and others in the CCAF credentialing section used their expertise to assist the 908th in getting this up and running.
“CCAF Credentialing played a huge role in this program,” said McParlane. “We worked together to help the 908th build a hands-on training course for the A&P certification that could be utilized alongside our online A&P Canvas courses. We helped the 908th get in touch with the FAA to ensure requirements were met to stand up their own testing center. We provided them with a plan of instruction, that gave them an outline of all the topics and tasks that needed to be covered per the FAA to sit for the written exams. We also provided them with access to the online courses and material for them to incorporate in their hands-on course.”
Knowing the benefits this could have for the entire U.S. Air Force, the CCAF only had one request of the 908 AW.
“The only requirements that we asked from them were to set-up a testing center to help push our agenda for A&P testing at Maxwell AFB,” explained McParlane. “We were excited for the opportunity to assist them on their path to certification.”
Looking back at the more than six months of work to get the first class started, McParlane and the rest of the CCAF team are pleased with how much they have accomplished.
“I have never been a part of something like this before,” said McParlane. “I've heard of a couple other bases doing something similar to this, but this is completely different than our normal routine. We mainly administer the online exams, so this was a great experience to put our curriculum writing and knowledge to the test.”
Official FAA Certified Test Center
Also in March 2022, Senior Master Sgt. Monica Lorenzo, 908th Airlift Wing, force development superintendent, and other members from wing training, were brought into the project, to try and find a solution for an officially certified testing site for students in the program.
“Wing training initially received information from Chief Master Sgt. Hester and was directed to Mrs. Shelly Waddell [at the FAA] on the Joint Service Aviation Maintenance Technician Certification Council program in order to expand the A&P certifications to our members,” explained Lorenzo.
Lorenzo and her team knew that getting a certified testing site on Maxwell AFB was vital to making this program happen for the 908th members.
“The closest test site is at Huntsville, [Alabama],” said Lorenzo. “[We were] in need of a regional test center in order to better assist our MXG members with A&P certification.”
Lorenzo and her team got right to work on getting an approved testing center, which was no easy task.
“It was extremely time consuming and demands attention to details in order to be considered an FAA/JSAMTCC Airman Knowledge Testing Center,” explained Lorenzo.
Equipment, documentation, training, and processing all had to be accomplished correctly to be successful.
“We had to meet FAA Airman Knowledge Testing proctor requirements, complete FAA trainings, submit required documentation, create proctor accounts for PSI website, complete proctor training and quiz, review FAA/JSAMTCC AKT program Memorandum of Agreement, Order 8080.6H, and FAA Airman testing Matrix, proper test site set up process, establish PSI proctor accounts, equipment setup with comm, and website schedule setup,” said Lorenzo.
After nearly four months of work, the 908th Airlift Wing’s test center was approved as an FAA certified national test center on July 8, 2022, and is open to all DoD Common Access Card holders in the region.
“This potentially saves Airmen hundreds of dollars on several FAA tests available free of charge at our test center,” explained Lorenzo.
Members are required to have a minimum skill level in specific Air Force Specialty Codes along with set minimum amounts of time of on-the-job experience documented in their records to qualify to begin the program.
“At the 908th Airlift Wing, we have an estimated 200 personnel including Traditional Reservists, Air Reserve Technicians, and civilians who have the prerequisite 5-level skilled AFSC background to take this course,” explained Tucker. “The student must have documented evidence of 30 months practical experience in airframe and powerplant systems or 18 months in one system. Not everyone can get both Airframe and Powerplant but even getting FAA certified in one is quite an accomplishment and sets the Airman up to get the other, in time.”
The program is a mixture of hands-on training, online learning, written exams, and oral examination, and then a test of each student’s practical skills at hands-on maintenance.
“The first 908 A&P enrollees have been given their Canvas accounts recently,” said Tucker. “Canvas is the online study that CCAF requires students to complete along with their Qualification Training Package. QTP is a documented historical criteria of the member’s hands-on proficiency at specific aircraft maintenance tasks. Canvas study is in private and can take anywhere from two to six months to accomplish depending on person’s agenda. The 908 A&P program starts after the student completes Canvas. It allows the student to learn and accomplish the listed QTP criteria that they have not already completed and been signed off on. The goal of the school is to get the students hands-on training while prepping them for the written FAA General, Airframe and Powerplant tests which now can be taken for free with a military ID at the Maxwell 908 AW training office. Once the student passes all three written tests, they schedule a meeting with a Designated Mechanic Examiner, who questions them on their oral knowledge of the three FAA tests. The DME also tests their practical skills at hands-on maintenance. The result is a Federal Aviation Administration, Airframe and Powerplant Certification.”
Schedule & Class Sizes
Starting a program of this magnitude from the ground up means there will most likely be some adjustments along the way. The 908th project leads know that changes will be coming, so starting slow and adding in time for after action reports and potential modifications was key when setting up the size and frequency of the program.
“We anticipate our 908 A&P school to take two months on top of the student’s personal Canvas study of two-to-six months,” said Tucker. “We expect the first graduates who started in early November to be qualified before the Christmas holiday break. Based on that timeline, we are looking at classes every two months with a weeklong break to hot wash between classes.”
As far as the class sizes go, they are expected to expand as the program ages.
“As with anything in its infancy we want to start out simple,” explained Tucker. “We plan on 5 to 10 tops per class right now. We expect the classes to grow in time with the goal of accrediting everyone interested by October 2023.”
Benefits to the 908 AW, CCAF and DoD
Leaders in and outside of the 908th see the value of the training from a senior perspective, noting potential secondary and tertiary effects it might provide.
“The A&P program is a way to provide additional credentialing to maintainers that are interested,” explained Hester.
With Tucker expanding on Hester’s thoughts by stating, “This program benefits the wing and subsequently the Air Force by providing voluntary members expansion of their professional development with up to 30 hours of collegiate credits, the added incentive of a great recruitment tool and a retention bonus, as well as developing key skills needed to better adapt during our wing’s aircraft transition from fixed wing C-130 airplanes to rotary wing MH-139 helicopters.”
The CCAF’s willingness to help the 908th get the program off the ground was due to their ability to see the benefits this brings to the CCAF and by extension to the rest of the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
“This benefits CCAF in a multitude of ways,” said McParlane. “First and foremost, it allows Airman to become aware of the A&P program that we offer. It also allows us to utilize the testing center to administer FAA written exams. Lastly, it aided our mission to allow members of the DoD to become FAA certified and incorporate the multi-capable Airman concept. I believe CCAF could market this to the rest of the Air Force because many of the resources that are required are already present at aircraft bases.”
McParlane closed by saying, “I would just like to add that I am pleased with the leadership of the 908th for allowing this opportunity for their members to receive this type of life changing personal development. It goes to show that our leaders do have our best interest in mind.”
Other people also involved in the process to make this happen include: Mr. Marty Ashley, 908 MXG Technical Order Distribution Office inspector and 908th A&P assistant program director; Master Sgt. Steven Harris, 908 MXG quality insurance inspector and 908th A&P program assistant; Master Sgt. Marlin Kennedy, 908th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, airframe powerplant general crew chief and 908th A&P program instructor; Tech. Sgt. Lloydstone Jacobs, 908 AMXS, APG crew chief and 908th A&P program instructor; Shirley Waddell, federal aviation administration frontline manager of the airman testing standards branch; Mr. Arthur Rousseau, CCAF director of credentialing programs; and Tech. Sgt. Tate Young, CCAF credentialing program manager.