Hill’s New Manufacturing Flight overcomes part shortages

By Donovan Potter 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

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When an essential aircraft part becomes unavailable, it’s not a constraint for the 533 Commodities Maintenance Squadron. They take the motto, “Built right. Ready to fight,” to an entirely different level since they can fabricate their own parts.

This skilled group of engineers and technicians design, prototype and manufacture thousands of critical components annually, that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Some of the parts they mill, shape, bend and construct include B-1 hinges, T-38 aileron control levers, F-16 fuel shelf brackets, A-10 segments and C-130 fuselage section ribs.

Creating a usable aircraft part is not a simple process, which begins with a capability check to be sure they have the resources needed to produce the asset. Then it goes to planning and engineering where they do modeling and programming.

“At that time, we grab the raw stock and run it across an array of different machines that may be required to make the part,” said Helen Jacobs, 533 CMMXS new manufacturing section chief. “Lathes, mills, welding, sheet metal, whatever the process would be to complete that asset. The material may need to be heat-treated, welded, machined, or any number of procedures. It’s quite a process.”

These parts are manufactured in order to bridge a gap in the regular supply system, when there’s no contract in place from an outside source.

“They come to us and say they need a certain amount of back orders for a specific part,” said Darren Ketchell, 533 CMMXS new manufacturing flight chief. “I’ll fill that back order until it’s supportable in supply. I might build 10 assets or I might build 100. It depends on what the Air Force need is and what that bridge gap is from when that contract is going to deliver; I can fill that gap.”

A possible aircraft grounding about 12 years ago, because of an unavailable part, is what put the local parts manufacturers on the map.

The T-38 aileron lever was not available through the normal supply chain, and vendors weren’t able to produce it. The new manufacturing flight aggressively went to work and ultimately produced more than 2,000 of the important part, avoiding a fleet grounding.

Ketchell said there’s always been a need and a requirement for local manufacturing because they fulfill a vital role for the military.

“People don’t realize the capability that local manufacturing has,” he said. “We’re a small entity, but we have a big impact on the overall mission. We play a huge part in the overall success of people producing their end-item asset.”


Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the Hill Air Force Base website.