y Philip Rhodes
Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
5/8/2013 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- An
innovative program developed by Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command
here is expected to improve productivity, save maintenance man-hours,
and the Air Force $12 million.
Called eTools Lite, the program improves on the Air Force's original
mandate to put aircraft maintenance technical orders into an electronic
format by placing the digital files on iPads instead of the costlier,
heavier and more complicated ruggedized laptops.
With the iPads and eTools Lite, access to more than 2,000 technical
orders is a simple swipe of the finger, a convenience not lost on
"Maintainers are calling this the best thing since sliced bread, a game
changer," said Corey Runge, a former F-16 crew chief and a member of the
AFRC team that developed, tested and fielded the ingenious solution.
Developed in partnership with AFRC's Communications and Logistics
directorates, eTools Lite reduces the number of ruggedized laptops
needed by the maintenance community. Some laptops will still be used in
supervisory and troubleshooting roles but the vast majority of tech data
access by AFRC maintainers will be done via iPads.
According to Col. Wendy Deemer, chief of AFRC Logistics Operations,
eTools Lite will be adopted by the Air Force on an attrition basis.
Col. Larry Stephenson, deputy director of Logistics, led the AFRC team
that took eTools Lite from concept to implementation in just two and
half years. Team members included, Deemer, Majs. Christina Manning and
Ellen Weaver, Capt. Terrell Eikner, Senior Master Sgt. Wendy Blevins,
Jerry Ruiz, Bruce Gaynor, Cynthia Schultz, Michael Phillips and Runge.
Several years ago Air Force mandated that technical orders and other
instructions be converted from paper to portable digital format so
aircraft maintainers could easily access tech data in PDF form on
laptops instead of lugging binders of paper TOs to the flightline.
In concept, the laptop solution seemed plausible. In reality, Deemer said, the laptops did not work as originally intended.
Runge agreed. A crew chief for eight years at Homestead Air Reserve
Base, Fla., before joining the AFRC logistics team, he has firsthand
experience with the cumbersome, heavy laptops.
"We had to wait 10-15 minutes after logging in just to connect to the
network," he said. "By the time I got out to the flight line, I had to
deal with WIFI connectivity issues. It just wasn't working. At the time,
most of the mechanics preferred to take paper TOs."
"It really defeated the purpose [of having electronic tech orders],"
Deemer said. "The whole idea was to save money. It didn't save a whole
lot of money.
Ruggedized laptops cost nearly $3,500 apiece. Converting to the iPads
provides the Air Force a cost avoidance of more than $12 million over
the course of a three-year tech refresh cycle, according to Deemer.
Michael Phillips, AFRC Technical Order Distribution Office manager, is credited with bringing the iPad solution to the table.
The iPad was chosen because it performed better than other tablet devices they tested, Phillips said.
"The iPad can hold thousands of TOs, and it can open more than one book
at a time, which wasn't a capability of some of the other tablets we
tested at the time," he said.
"These are standard off-the-shelf iPads," Phillips explained. "We
haven't changed a thing other than disable WIFI and the camera. All we
added was a rubber waterproof and scratch-resistant cover. And, we can
field them at less than one-ninth the cost of the ruggedized laptops."
"Oddly enough, the maintainers like the iPads so much, they take better
care of them because they see them as such a valuable tool"
To ensure the iPads could safely be used in and around aircraft, the
devices underwent military standards testing at the Air National Guard
and Air Reserve Test Center in Tucson, Ariz.
The command then fielded iPads at six AFRC bases to stress the devices
in extreme cold, heat and humidity. Maintainers in Minnesota,
Massachusetts, New York, Indiana, Ohio and Florida put the iPads through
"Feedback we got from the maintainers was fantastic. They said the devices could revolutionize maintenance," Phillips said.
"What we're seeing with the iPads is more efficient and effective tech
order usage, as has been reported during operational readiness and other
inspections," Deemer said.
A recent Air Combat Command Combined Unit Inspection of the 920th Rescue
Wing, Patrick AFB, Fla., commended the unit for "sound technical order
usage." The rescue wing was an early adopter of the eTools Lite system.
The iPads are so convenient and easy to use, maintainers race to the tool crib each morning to get one before they run out.
Runge explains why.
On a typical maintenance job, an F-16 crew chief carries six to eight
tech orders, work cards and job guides. This makes the TO kit weigh 15
to 20 pounds. The iPad, which contains nearly all the TO's in the Air
Force library, weighs 2.5 pounds and can be grasped in one hand.
"With paper tech orders, maintainers have a tough time dealing with
wind, rain and hydraulic fluid. The paper has the potential to blow
away, creating a foreign object damage hazard better known as FOD,"
Runge said. "You get the picture."
Despite the benefits of the iPads, the logistics directorate faced an uphill battle to get them, said Deemer.
"There were a lot of naysayers," she said. Fielding the iPads took
considerable effort, from selecting the best device from a host of
competing products, testing, then developing the concept of operations,
policies and procedures and management of the program.
"But, it was worth pursing," Deemer said.
"We've had the great privilege to have leaders here who recognized that
it was worth pursuing and went through all the pain that is required to
get something like this. I think this is a tremendous accomplishment.
"This is one of the greatest advancements in maintenance that we've seen
in recent years because it directly benefits maintainers. It
immediately makes their jobs easier, quicker. I'm excited about this and
as more people start using the iPad they will be excited, too," Deemer