Aviation Leader Commentary: Customer support specialists relentless in B-52 sustainment

By Darryl Gary, chief, Aircraft Materiel Management Branch, DLA Aviation

PRINT  |  E-MAIL

I have been mesmerized by the mighty B-52 Stratofortress since I was a kid. Being born in the 1960s and living close to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, I had the unique privilege of watching B-52s fly overhead every day.

As I listened to their powerful engines and watched the trail of dark smoke that followed, I could have only dreamed of riding or even piloting one! Looking back 50 years later, I never imagined being part of the B-52 team. I now feel like I’m part of B-52 history.

The aircraft took its maiden flight in 1952 and was inducted into the Air Force fleet in 1955 when Tinker received its first B-52. This long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber has been providing core bombing capability for the Air Force for over 60 years. After being upgraded in 2013 and 2015, it is now expected to last an additional 25 years or more.

It makes me wonder how many more people will work and retire on this aircraft, since it will be here until 2040, and beyond

Defense Logistics Agency Aviation provides sustainment support for this platform to the Oklahoma Air Logistics Complex’s 76th Aircraft Maintenance Group. DLA Aviation manages 60,439 national stock numbers in the B-52 supply chain, of which 15,807 are unique to the weapon system. The maintenance group conducts depot support operations on fleets of Air Force active duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard aircraft, as well as expeditionary combat-logistics depot maintenance and distribution support.

With high demands on this maturing aircraft, DLA Aviation and the Air Force continue to find creative ways to keep the aircraft flying.

To modernize and maintain standards, the aircraft has undergone various major structural repairs and modifications to keep it airworthy.

During the past couple of years, DLA Aviation’s challenges have centered around supportability problems with lower quadrants (part of the main landing gear system), main landing gear trunnion legs and associated hardware. These problems suddenly arose in programmed depot maintenance because of a surge in use and the increase in replacement from 0 percent in previous years to 42 percent currently.

A team of DLA Aviation customer support specialists provided relentless support and visibility, putting over 800 materiel requirements in the hands of our Air Force customer and the warfighters monthly in support of their “Art of the Possible” goals to produce 17 aircraft in fiscal 2016.

The whole team worked tenaciously with our supply chain partners, completing contract modifications to get materiel in the hands of the B-52 PDM team. The DLA Aviation team supported the building of a Trunnion Leg Fastener Kit, which consisted of 72 line items. Many of the kit items were not stocked and had to be researched, since they were not available through normal supply channels. For some fasteners, DLA Aviation used substitute parts identified by Air Force engineering personnel in the trunnion-leg replacement. Obtaining engineering approval for part substitution is one method that allows DLA Aviation to ensure sustainment of older aircraft.

Another support challenge was lower-longeron repair, which is not part of the normal maintenance schedule. In aircraft construction, a longeron, also called a stringer or stiffener, is a thin strip of material to which the skin of an aircraft may be fastened. Inspections showed that the longerons on some of the incoming aircraft had cracks. Since this was a first-time repair, there was no materiel in supply. DLA Aviation built a new kit to support this workload through purchases from local manufacturers.

However, there were no fastener kits available to install this item onto the aircraft. So the team scrambled to support 226 individual line items and 212 individual fasteners with limited stock on hand. This materiel was required before the aircraft could begin scheduled repairs this past January.

The team sprang into action and coordinated research, locating the needed parts. Some of the materiel was acquired from bins of bench stock from industrial prime vendors and others from emergency buy processes. Since no single vendor stocked all the kit parts, multiple vendors were used to procure the needed materiel.

Using ingenuity and by enlisting the help of the B-52 CSSs, the team divided the emergency buys and emergency local manufacturing actions needed to assemble the kit in three weeks of the January 15 required need date. The concentrated efforts allowed repairs to start on time, preventing work stoppages.

These are just a couple of examples of how the DLA Aviation workforce uses innovation and creativity in parts support, ensuring we provide the best and fastest logistical support possible to our warfighters.