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Innovation Paying Off For Westover Maintainers

  • Published
  • By Staff Reports

At Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts, members of the 439th Maintenance Squadron are coming up with new and innovative ways to enhance their abilities to operate the Regional Minor Isochronal inspection dock that services the entire C-5 fleet for the Air Force.  An average of 20 of the 52 aircraft in the fleet cycle through Westover each year.

Their efforts at reforming their organization are also helping the squadron manage the base’s Crashed, Damaged and Disabled Repair Program in partnership with five other bases in the New England region and support the 439th Airlift Wing’s eight assigned C-5M aircraft. The squadron provides backshop support in collaboration with the 439th AMXS to maintain mission-ready aircraft available to execute the wing’s annual flying hour program.

Recently, the maintainers at Westover began using a Forward-Looking Infrared Radar acoustic camera to identify pressurization leaks on C-5s. This innovative concept took first place at the Maintenance Innovation Challenge held at the annual Defense Department Maintenance Symposium at the end of 2023, beating out 89 other submissions and the remaining five finalists who presented their ideas during the competition.

Since the competition, several Air Force bases purchased and began using the cameras for their own maintenance activities and several Navy organizations are exploring how they can use FLIR acoustic cameras on their equipment and platforms. In addition, Air Force Materiel Command is pursuing an Air Force-wide standardization of the camera as an inventoried tool in maintenance consolidated toolkits.

Earlier this year, the 439th MXS added to its award haul by winning the Air Force Reserve Command’s Maintenance Effectiveness Award in the small unit category and the 4th Air Force Innovation Excellence Award.

Tech. Sgt. Emmanual Torres-Garcia, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 439th MXS Wheel and Tire Shop, recently developed a new technique for building wheels using the Kunz machine that saves significant labor and time on the job. The shop also recently secured a new parts washer that eliminates the use of harsh chemicals.

“In addition, we’ve developed a plexiglass template for the torquing on tire builds that allows for increased accuracy,” Torres-Garcia said. “We’re working on manufacturing a more durable template out of a different material, but the gains to accuracy during builds are still there with the plexiglass.”

Keeping skillsets sharp is critical for everyone during this era of Great Power Competition, but it’s especially vital for maintaining legacy airframes like the C-5. Enhancing and drawing upon their expertise, several of the 439th MXS back shops have been able to leverage additional repair capabilities through the Repair Network Integration program managed at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.

Currently, the 439th MXS has RNI nodes within its Hydraulic, Electrical/Environmentals, Avionics, and Structural Maintenance shops and is planning on expanding into the Wheel and Tire shop in the near future. The Structural Maintenance shop in the Fabrication Flight was the first to stand up a node for secondary flight control surfaces. Their work on a right #1 flap provided the shop with ample challenges and opportunities to develop skills in the less-experienced members of the shop and will contribute toward reducing the repair backlog at Robins AFB, Georgia, home of C-5 depot-level maintenance and repairs.

Senior Airman Nilda Izqueirdo, a structural maintenance technician, recently completed a home-station mobilization in support of Operation Spartan Shield.

“It’s so important to me that I had this experience,” she said. “It wasn’t easy. It kept me away from my newborn daughter, but I probably wouldn’t have reenlisted if I hadn’t been mobilized. It was really exciting, and as a traditional Reservist, I’ve wanted more experience. Being unable to participate for a while, the orders and workload really cemented my desire to become a full-time technician.”

Keeping up with the operations tempo meant a significant increase in the workload for Izqueirdo and her coworkers.

“It built connections with the ARTs that aided with training and collaboration,” she said. “It really bridged the gap between TRs and ARTs across the squadron. Working with the team allowed me to feel more comfortable discussing ideas and, as a result, I was able to provide a more efficient way to conduct a repair.”

The women and men of the 439th MXS work hard at their jobs … and they work equally hard at building camaraderie and strengthening their resilience. One way they do this is by having an annual field day for all members. Field day events touch on Air Force Specialty Code-specific tasks, like identifying mistakes in a set of aircraft forms, and wartime readiness-based challenges like land navigation or weapons breakdown and buildup.

There are more than 11 AFSCs within a maintenance squadron, and by the end of the field day, members have learned more about what the other shops in the unit do and more about each other while having a great time supporting or making it through the event stations.

What’s next for the 439th MXS? Continued pursuit of the unit’s vision of being an evolving unit of resilient and empowered Airmen, increasing relevancy through expanded capabilities. The maintainers are exploring additive manufacturing, extended reality training and focusing on obtaining the right equipment and training opportunities to keep the squadron on the path to realizing the unit’s vision and cementing their future as innovative maintainers ready and relevant to the fight for the C-5 enterprise and beyond.