SOUTHWEST ASIA –
In early May, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Tech. Sgt. Chance Cole, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight line expediter, came up with an idea – and it’s going to save the Air Force a lot of money.
“We were wrapping up a twelve-hour shift, and two of my guys just spent nearly an entire day replacing a single part on the MQ-9 Reaper,” Cole said. “It was frustrating, because we knew there had to be a more efficient way of doing this job.”
Cole described the issue, saying the part they were replacing actually didn’t need to be replaced at all. The real culprit was just a $53 sub-component held within, named the ‘spline insert.’
According to Cole, each time maintenance personnel were unable to replace the insert, they actually had to remove and replace a much larger and more complex assembly, the Permanent Magnetic Alternator (PMA). This process had been accomplished multiple times in the past due to an inability to remove a damaged insert and it added unnecessary time and expense.
Cole sprang into action by asking co-worker Staff Sgt. Hermann Nunez, 386 EAMXS crew chief, to stay after his shift to help him create a solution. Mere hours later, they brought their idea to life and fabricated what they described as a crude prototype designed to remove the damaged insert.
Although the prototype was functional, Cole and Nunez concluded they needed assistance in creating a more-refined product to be used the next time the need arose. The next morning, they decided to bring the tool to the 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron Combat Metals Flight. There, Senior Airman Alex Young and Senior Airman Elio Esqueda, who serve as aircraft metals technicians, decided to take action.
“They brought their prototype to us and asked for some advice,” said Young. “One look at the tool and we knew exactly what to do – so we got to work.”
According to Young, the tool initially provided was simply a long bolt that matched the insert threads, which the crew chiefs used to extract the insert. However, use of the tool required a decent amount of strength – as the user had to physically pull the crude tool to remove the insert from the PMA.
Young and Esqueda fabricated something called a slide hammer, which provides the user a counter-weight to slide along the tool’s shaft in order to ‘hammer’ the piece out with ease.
The device, which the four Airmen named the ‘Spline Insert Extractor,’ was completed on May 5, 2018. The four Airmen then routed the product through their chain-of-command before implementing its use. After passing multiple inspections and approval from their leadership, the tool was put into service locally.
According to the maintainers, the finished product prevents at least four hours of maintenance each time they use the tool to replace the insert instead of replacing the PMA. Use of the tool is projected to save more than $123,000 annually – and that’s just here at the 386th.
According to Cole, the tool is currently in the process to be approved for use throughout the Air Force on all MQ-9 Block 5 Reapers. Once adopted by the enterprise, he expects the tool will be modified and adapted for usage on the MQ-9 Block 1, as well.
“When we first started the process to create the tool, we only had the intention of fixing a problem we were having here locally,” Cole said. “Thanks to Airmen like Staff Sgt. Nunez, Senior Airman Young and Senior Airman Esqueda helping me with this simple fix, we now have the opportunity to make a lasting impact for our peers across the globe.”
Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing website.