Managing upgrades, retrofits and overall maintenance for a large number of aircraft can be challenging. It often requires great logistical efforts to ensure the right people and equipment are available at the right time to service aircraft.
Operations research analysts assigned to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s operations research team at Wright Patterson Air Force Base were recently recognized by the Military Operations Research Society for developing the F-22 master plan scheduling tool, which is credited with optimizing resources at the F-22 Raptor modification lines at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and reducing maintenance delays.
Partnering with the F-22 Strategic Planning Group at Hill AFB, operations research analysts were able to take data from aircraft maintenance, including the number of employees and their skillsets and apply mathematical theory to create the scheduling tool.
In creating the scheduling tool, the team used existing modeling techniques and adapted them for specific application to the F-22 aircraft maintenance environment.
Dr. Greg Gehret, an analyst with the operation research team, said that the scheduling tool improves efficiency by strategically forecasting manpower requirements for the F-22 modification lines.
“When an aircraft goes through any maintenance activity, we are only as good as getting the work done in a timely fashion,” Gehret said. “If we need to paint the airplane and the paint booth isn’t available we fall behind. If the paint booth is open but we don’t have the human resources to do the painting we fall behind, so we use scheduling theory to be able to put both of those together and predict over the horizon to try to right size manpower and get the facilities in alignment.”
Gehret added that different types of human resources are needed to do the work packages on aircraft and that maintainers primarily work in the area(s) of their skillset. The scheduling tool helps organize the process by ensuring enough infrastructure is available and it identifies and matches maintenance skillsets with the right workload and right location in the facility to keep aircraft maintenance on time.
“The master plan scheduling tool has given the 574th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron the analytical ability to forecast critical depot resource requirements,” said Matt Starkey, a scheduler/planner with the F-22 Strategic Planning Group. “These resources include facilities, manpower, tooling and materials that are vital to accomplishing the critical path on schedule.”
Due to its success with the F-22, the scheduling tool may be used to support other aircraft.
“At this point there are two programs looking at it and it could expand above and beyond that,” Gehret said. “Whatever production line you have, this logic will help the production line. Whether it is a brand new aircraft like the F-35 (Lightning II) or an old one like the A-10 (Thunderbolt II). This is an application of scheduling theory so it works for any production type.”
By improving efficiency for the F-22 maintenance environment, the scheduling tool is getting capabilities, including critical modifications, to the warfighter faster.
“I’ve personally heard Secretary of the Air Force Deborah James talk about the importance of agility,” Gehret said. “From my perspective, this work is important because it’s us doing our small part in big DOD to try to improve agility for the war fighter.”