by Jenny Gordon
78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
8/7/2015 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Georgia -- Without
ailerons, elevators and rudders on a C-17 Globemaster III -- the
powerful cargo jet that carries troops and supplies to the battlefield
and in support of humanitarian efforts -- the aircraft can't safely be
controlled during flight. And without regular inspections and
maintenance of those flight controls by the 574th Composite Repair
Flight here, their effectiveness can be diminished significantly.
For the past two years, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group shops have
been planning, coordinating and implementing innovative process changes
with respect to how their aircraft parts flow through production
These days in the C-17 Flight Control Shop, it's no longer business as usual due to those changes.
There's optimism and expectation as parts are moved through the
production machine. They're already seeing a few days shortened in the
overall workday flow early in the process, as well as improvement in
identifying and prioritizing the workload.
Out of the Gates
Once C-17 flight control assets are removed during the disassembly
portion of programmed depot maintenance, they're routed to various
backshops for work. In this particular shop, there is a six-gate system,
which includes inspection, wet clean, flash jet, repairs, seals
installation, paint, and weight and balance.
Gate 4 is where the flight control shop conducts repairs across several
microgates, from shakedown and form submittals, to sanding and sealing.
The gates or processes begin with receipt of the aircraft's assets --
each arrives as a set of 10, which includes the forward upper and lower
rudders, aft upper and lower rudders, right and left inboard elevator,
right and left outboard elevator and two left and right ailerons.
Since the process began, one significant bottleneck that was found and
changed was when sealant is applied to an aileron, which is located on
either side of an aircraft's wings and help tilt the wings to a desired
In the past, because of the lengthy work involved in drilling and
applying sealant (or sealant injection repairs used to help fill air
pockets that can form between the skin and surface underneath as the
aileron pivots on the wing), this had been worked later in the process
to allow time for drying. That could mean late delivery to the next shop
if the part wasn't ready in time. Now, it's performed up front -- an
example of workload prioritization.
Another change involved form submittals detailing repair issues. That's
also now worked early on in Gate 4, which helps speed up the work
"Maintenance professionals who are working flight controls now know
exactly where they need to be and when they need to do a job for
accountability," said Emmerson Manns, Composite Repair Flight
supervisor. "I can already see an improvement."
"While we've always had continuous process improvement events, this time
we all have one main goal: completing each set of flight controls in 35
days," said Earl Mann, 574th Commodities Maintenance Squadron work
Mann referred to depaint and flash jet operations and inspections --
shops that must inevitably work together to return an aircraft part on
time to its customer. In the past there were variables that occurred
when capturing how much real time it took to produce a part, but the
difference he sees today is that now important issues and problems can
be readily identified, along with documentation.
"It takes all of us to make it work," he said.
Due to excellent communication and teamwork between production
controllers in the prime repair shop and the process shops, a total of
five days have already been shaved off with processes in gates 2 and 3,
wet clean and flash jet operations.
Prior to implementing this new process, the average flow days (for the
last 10 sets of flight controls per aircraft) stood at 52 days.
The current goal is to return parts to its customer at a 35-day work
flow. Two more aircraft's set of flight controls are scheduled to go
through this new process in fiscal 2015.
The goal for fiscal 2016 is 30 days.
Accountability and change
This gate system is part of a standardized system in place across Air
Force Sustainment Center depots. Known as Art of the Possible, the
concept was born out of a leadership model that describes the work the
Center does as reaching beyond today's limitations, improving processes,
eliminating constraints and optimizing resources to reach world-class
At the end of the day, it's about knowing where you are and how you've
done, having accountability and employee ownership of the process,
exceeding customer expectations and, last but not least, reducing the
work already in progress.
"Art of the Possible has allowed us to break the process down into small
chunks so we can see what's happening," said Eric Brady, 574 CMMXS
scheduler. "By breaking the process down into smaller gates, we're able
to identify the bottlenecks and constraints that are hindering the
process, and make the necessary changes to increase speed and flow
without compromising safety or quality."
"We are getting buy-in from everyone, not just one group of people. When
you go to any other CMXG building, they're talking Art of the Possible,
the same language," said Manns. "Everyone is on the same page. That's