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News | Nov. 20, 2015

DLA Aviation overcomes logistical hurdles for C-5 honeycomb panels

By Leon Moore DLA Aviation Public Affairs

According to the Department of the Air Force, the C-5 military transport airplane is one of the largest aircraft in the world and the largest airlifter in its inventory. The plane can carry a fully-equipped, combat-ready military unit to any point in the world on short notice and then provide the supplies required to help sustain the fighting force.

Mark Hollifield, contracting officer, Defense Logistics Agency Aviation at Warner Robins, Georgia, said more than 1,000 bonded honeycomb panels hold one of these massive planes together, each with low-density demand patterns. Honeycomb materials are widely used where flat or slightly curved surfaces are needed and their high specific strength is valuable.

These panels also have an extensive history of logistical challenges. “Form, fit, and function problem,” said Hollifield. He said complicated loft data and old drawings make manufacturing and replacing these panels very difficult. 

Hollifield said traditional production lead times (PLTs) were too long to support planned depot maintenance (PDM), which in many cases required a 90-day turn around. This led to the panels being repaired at a much bigger price tag vice ordering new panels. 

In 2010, the C-5 planned depot maintenance (PDM) leadership at Warner Robins, Georgia, comprised of both Air Force and DLA Aviation personnel, initiated a Lean Six Sigma event to identify and address support issues for the panels. The outcome was the development of a joint holistic strategic initiative between DLA Aviation and the Air Force Commodity Council.

The team identified 297 DLA-consumable national stock numbers and 226 Air Force depot-level reparable stock numbers for inclusion in the initiative. The Air Force Engineering Support Activity at Warner Robins then developed and imposed a source qualification statement (SQS).

“It’s pretty much a checklist that each interested party would have to adhere to,” said Tony Kemp, strategic acquisition program manager for DLA Aviation’s Strategic Acquisition Programs Directorate in Richmond, Virginia.

Rita Stocks provides contractor support to the directorate in Richmond, Virginia. “The engineering community was receptive to a new way of thinking and they embraced a new and innovative solution to a long-term problem,” said Stocks.

The SQS requires all contractors interested in competing to manufacture the honeycomb panels be pre-qualified. More importantly, it eliminates costly and time consuming first article testing (FAT), which is a process that ensures the contractor can furnish a product that meets all contract requirements before the government would take delivery.

Hollifield said in the past, FAT could take in excess of 300 days and there were high rates of failures and fit problems. He also said it then took roughly another 150 days to qualify a contractor and then approximately 300 days to manufacture the part. This meant it could have taken up to 750 days to supply a panel to the customer.

With the new process, Stocks says the goal is to get the PLT down from 750 days to 180 days. “We feel more confident that we are going to get a quality product in a timely fashion,” said Stocks.

This strategic initiative between DLA Aviation and the Air Force Commodity Council is a 100 percent small business set-aside and supports the Department of Defense Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative. It’s part of DODs continuing effort to achieve dominant capabilities through innovation, promote effective competition and demand technical excellence. It falls in line with DLA’s mission of providing effective and efficient global solutions to warfighters and our other valued customers. It also supports DLA Director Air Force Lt. Gen. Andy Busch’s vision of delivering the right solution on time, every time through the five goals of warfighter first, people and culture, strategic engagement, financial stewardship and process excellence.

Lockheed-Georgia Co. developed the C-5 and delivered the first operational one to the 437th Airlift Wing, Charleston Air Force Base, now known as Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, in June l970. C-5s are operated by active-duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard crews. They are currently stationed at Dover AFB, Delaware; Travis AFB, California; Lackland AFB, Texas; Martinsburg Air National Guard Base, West Virginia and Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts.