Along the flight line there may be an aircraft with a part that is deemed obsolete.
However, if that part isn’t available anywhere else in the world and it breaks who else can fix it? The responsibility then falls to the Air Force Repair Enhancement Program …
Often parts go to a field-level maintenance repair shop along the flight line, other parts are coded to be thrown away and a majority of these end up at AFREP. The whole point of AFREP is to help the Air Force to be self-sufficient, in order to do that little bits and parts are needed, which is when it helps to have friends in supply.
A rounds limiter, is a device that prohibits A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots from firing over a predetermined amount of rounds, helping to conserve ammunition. The Air Force had to find a way to make the parts they had last because for a while this part wasn’t being manufactured. AFREP maintainers stepped up to the plate with a plan on how to fix the parts and started supplying bases Air Force wide with them.
“A lot of these parts are coded to be thrown away, so when the technicians from the flight line would pull these off the aircraft if they’re broken they’d just throw them away,” said Todd Zickel, 355th Maintenance Group AFREP supply manager. “But then they’re not getting any funding from the depot because no one’s supporting them so we figured out a way to fix it and that’s what we really do here. We figure out ways to fix parts that are not usually fixable.”
Another part that controls the two crew-served 7.62mm/.50 caliber machineguns on an HH-60G Pave Hawk is coded to be thrown away if broken. This part costs $84,000 and Zickel can get it sent straight back to the manufacturer where it can be repaired for $2,000. The $82,000 saved from sustaining the part then goes back into the Air Force’s fund and is dispersed throughout the wing and maintenance shops. That additional money helps pay for new equipment such as sunshades and traffic lights, along with helping to pay the electric bill and fix the pool.
“I designed a new circuit card myself and it goes inside the A-10’s breakout box,” said Tech. Sgt. Les Reeves, 355th Maintenance Group AFREP manager. “This box is used in testing the auto shutdown features of the A-10’s auxiliary power unit.”
AFREP was originally envisioned to save the Air Force money through repairs and fixes. Today the original vision is still being met, but now they are also sustaining the fleet. They repair parts that are not in any Career Field Education and Training Plans and without AFREP most of those parts would not get repaired, as no one specifically has that in their job description.
To name a few they have fixed: The pin setting machines at the bowling alley; the scoreboard at the soccer field; the metal detectors for the security forces squadron; bomb robots for Explosive Ordnance Disposal; and the ceiling fan at Benko Fitness and Sports Center. Just recently they fixed the maintenance gate at the 355th Munitions Squadron.
“Are we gate mechanics? No, we’re airplane mechanics, but the Air Force gave us skills, we know how to troubleshoot electronics and we know how to use multimeters,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Isaken, 355th MXG AFREP manager. “So we just go out there and do it, if something needs to get fixed we’ll go out and fix it.”
AFREP’s shop still belongs to the 355th maintenance group but it is not a career field. Within it are many maintainers classically trained to repair A-10s, C-130s and HH-60s along with crew chiefs, electricians, and avionics specialists. Airmen with an inclination for tinkering and thinking outside the box are most desirable as coming up with solutions for problems is part of the job.
Technical orders are used on the flight line to reference tech data so that the maintainers on the flight line going out to repair aircraft have all that information with them. TOs are sometimes sent to the shop to be repaired as tools can fall on the screen and crack them, or they could be dropped while work is being done up in a cockpit. AFREP is able to help here as well and fixes these even though it is not in any Air Force Specialty Code to fix an IPad. Electronics are involved and from there they are able to utilize what other resources and knowledge they have.
Their shop is empowered by the commander to take the next step, using the general TOs and applying their collective knowledge in order to find a solution to any problem. There’s a lot of tech data out there and there’s a TO on just about everything, along with TOs that are continuously being updated. AFREP has access to TOs that a maintainer on the flight line wouldn’t normally have such as depot TOs and engineering drawings. Isaken mentioned.
“I have developed tests for multiple relay boxes, control panels, and harnesses which previously had to be tested using a multi-meter and power supply,” said Tech. Sgt. Tyler Insley, 355th MXG AFREP automatic wire test set technician. “The confidence test that I developed for the A-10 Navigation Mode Select Panel saves around 30-45 minutes compared to manual testing. The Interior Exterior Lighting Control Panel test allows more accurate testing of intricate switch positions and saves 60-90 minutes during the diagnostic process.”
Since the fiscal year of 2001 DM’s very own AFREP shop has saved the Air Force $85,776,337 in total financial benefit, and out of 14,953 items screened 13,357 were repaired. As of this year they’ve saved the Air Force $6,128,230 in total financial benefit, and out of 634 items screened, they repaired 608.
Parts that are supposed to be repaired at a depot are no longer being repaired at a depot because either contracts are going away or vendors have since gone out of business. Meanwhile in the current year of 2022 that part may still be needed to support the aircraft and AFREP finds a way to get it done.