DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- A fleet of hail-damaged T-1A Jayhawk trainers are now back in the air thanks to a unique repair and maintenance mission performed by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
The group took on repair for 10 of the aircraft after 39 of them sustained severe hail damage when a storm swept through Laughlin AFB, Texas, one of several bases where the Jayhawk serves as the Air Force’s advanced trainer for airlift and tanker pilots. The final T-1A to complete repairs returned to Laughlin AFB Dec. 17.
Derived from the Hawker/Beechcraft 400A corporate aircraft, the T-1A is essentially a civil aircraft modified to fit military training needs. As such, repair facilities approved to work on the aircraft require Federal Aviation Authority certifications beyond the usual.
According to Shawn Clay, the product support manager at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center T-1 System Program Office, they had 39 damaged trainers and only one commercial repair facility. Air Force Materiel Command suggested shifting some of the hail damage repair workload to the 309th AMARG.
“The benefit from a business perspective was we would have two repair facilities getting the work done quicker,” said Clay.
There were additional benefits to diverting 10 T-1 aircraft to 309th AMARG for hail damage repair.
“Having AMARG really opened the door for us to interact, to get into the process, work through the issues, and visit the facility to give us a different angle,” Clay said. “We could spend time with AMARG managers as well as the mechanics. Certainly we began with a bigger level of trust, we knew AMARG could do the work and this boosted us from the get-go.”
The T-1A had never had any major repair work performed by Air Force personnel. Herman Brandon, AFLCMC’s program manager materiel leader, was the first member from the T-1 SPO team to visit 309th AMARG.
“Starting up something new is scary because of its uniqueness and being outside the norm,” Brandon said. “But after hearing what the team had to offer and seeing firsthand what they do on a variety of platforms, I knew this was a well-rounded organization that could handle the challenge of restoring the T-1s.”
Using Art of the Possible methodology, 309th AMARG established a production line several months in advance of the first aircraft arrivals. According to Brandon, “the team had existing mechanics who were sent to T-1 training, had procured the tooling and equipment needed and were ready to go.”
Employees, hand-selected based on their experience levels in aircraft airframe, power-plant, electrics, avionics, and structural repair, received six weeks of T-1A familiarization training at Laughlin AFB.
“At its peak, the T-1A repair and maintenance production line employed a total of 36 sheet metal, APG and avionics technicians,” said John Meske, the 576th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Squadron’s Medium Aircraft flight chief.
An audit in 2017 by the AFSC Flight Standards Management Office resulted in the group’s qualification for the Military Repair Station Program and associated Federal Aviation Administration regulatory requirements, certifying 309 AMARG as AFSC’s first-ever FAA equivalent Military Repair Station, which provided an avenue to create revenue and perform commercial-type work.
Repairing the hail-damaged aircraft was labor intensive. Planning documents called for stripping the aircraft interior, removing engines, disassembling the nose and aft cargo bay area, shoring, symmetry checks, and removing five critical pressurized skins. Once replacement skins were available for installation, the work was reversed for reassembly.
AMARG ingenuity spawned the creation of wooden drilling fixtures to hold engine cowls and replacement skins in place as sheet metal workers transferred and matched holes from old panels to new.
Besides replacing skins, mechanics also performed corrosion inspections and replacement repairs to lavatory areas on six of the 10 aircraft.
“The AMARG team invested approximately 108,000 thousand man hours into this repair and maintenance program,” said Col. Jennifer Barnard, 309th AMARG commander. “This was the heaviest maintenance these aircraft have undergone and these professionals worked tirelessly to return a quality product to the Air Force’s training command.”
Early in the program, there were supply chain challenges for the System Program Office, but nothing Brittney Barton, the AFLCMC T-1 logistics manager couldn’t resolve.
“We applied lessons learned from the other repair line to front-load AMARG with as many parts as we could anticipate in order for this effort to be successful,” said Barton. “We figured out what our supply contractor needed from us to get parts ordered and delivered relatively quickly.”
Barton’s efforts paid off. The parts supplier was eventually able to turn parts the next day depending on part size and mechanics were able to achieve more than one functional check flight a week due to parts availability.
“Something as simple as tracking each tail and the number of functional check flights it took to successfully pass showed how much pride this team put into this effort. They cared. That resonated with us because the program team also cared. To connect with them in such a way makes me very proud of what we’ve done to work through this together,” Barton said.
The T-1 SPO team agrees that teamwork and communication between the SPO, Supply Chain, 309th AMARG and the original equipment manufacturer contributed to the success of the program.
“Without the efforts of AMARG, we’d still be repairing aircraft,” said Brandon. “A quarter of the fleet was taken down by a hail storm which significantly impacted the ability to train students. Now that we have that fleet back on the front line, their aircraft availability has increased by 15 to 20 percent.”
“It’s the quality of the product,” said Clay. “It’s one thing to have it back, but when the aircraft stay in the air and stay available longer because AMARG has done their job so well, it only translates into good things. They can fly more hours, pilots graduate quicker, etc. At the end of the day, (Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command0 have pilots ready to go when they need them.”
The T-1 SPO team looks forward to continuing a relationship with AMARG.
“Having visited the facility, the underlying message is the AMARG workforce is very competent in their abilities. They are the masters of doing a hundred different things one time versus masters of doing one thing a hundred times. We have a fleet of 177 aircraft and we know problems are going to pop up. What a resource to have in our hip pocket. To see a skill in place, a great team, facilities, everything you need,” Clay said.
AMARG’s participation in the repair effort for the Air Force’s hail-damaged T-1A Jayhawks is representative of the group’s ongoing contribution to the U.S. military, the U.S. government, and the U.S. taxpayer, yet another example of its title: America’s National-level Air Power Reservoir.