5th MXG sets B-52 maintenance records

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Maintaining the Air Force’s premier long-range strike bomber can be a challenge for the 5th Maintenance Group it has been a record-breaking success story.

Since October 2004, the group has set records with its maintenance of the B-52H Stratofortress. The unit has averaged an 87 percent mission capable rate —11 percent higher than the Air Combat Command’s standard of 76 percent. 

“Sustained performance first half fiscal year 06 is so high no other unit can even touch us,” said Col. Gary Lane, 5th Maintenance Group commander. “Each month we are blowing away the previous months rates, we are leading the bomber fleet.” 

A mission capable rate tells command and the Air Force how many aircraft are available at any one time to meet national objectives. The rates combine not only maintenance, but also availability of parts for the jet. 

“The MC rate is figured by the time (in minutes) the aircraft is not able to fly and separated into maintenance or supply,” said Capt. Chris Boring, 5th Maintenance Operations Squadron maintenance operations officer. “Every minute counts, simply put more mission capable aircraft equal more bombs on target —and more U.S. lives protected on the ground. ” 

According to Colonel Lane, a healthy fleet begins with long-range planning based on a solid maintenance strategy and concepts. In the 5th MXG, this is communicated through four pillars — training, technical data compliance, safety compliance and a professional attitude. 

“These guys and gals (maintainers) are second to no one,” the colonel continued. “When I have to literally throw them off the flightline in sub-zero degree temperatures because they want to keep their jets mission capable…amazing.” 

The maintenance of the aircraft is done in two different areas, heavy maintenance which includes phase inspection and corrosion control, and flightline production.
Production includes the day-to-day upkeep of the jet ensuring the aircraft can meet mission requirements. 

“Production organizes and prioritizes the maintenance needed on the aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Olavs Vildavs, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant aircraft section chief. “The crew chiefs conduct daily inspections and report any discrepancies to production who will then schedule the needed maintenance.”
Phase inspection and corrosion control are the cornerstones for the long-term maintenance of the aircraft. 

Phase inspection is an in-depth inspection process to ensure the B-52 is structurally sound. It’s conducted on each aircraft every 300 flying hours.
“Phase is preventive maintenance,” said Master Sgt. Ryan Kumerow, 5th Maintenance Squadron phase inspection dock chief. “It’s done to ensure these almost 50-year-old jets keep flying.” 

The maintainers in corrosion control are looking for metal that has deteriorated over time. The checks are done on the B-52 every 300 flying hours. 

“It’s very similar to a vehicle rusting,” said Master Sgt. Chris Kurz, 5th MXS structural maintenance NCO in charge. “Any type of corrosion will degrade the structural integrity of aircraft which if ignored could lead to a serious incident.” 

The maintainers develop a strict schedule of when maintenance and inspections are required, but this can be put off track if the parts are not available. In the past six months, the availability of parts has been on track allowing the maintenance to stay on or ahead of schedule according to Captain Boring. 

“The availability of parts ranks number two behind the expertise of our maintainers in keeping the fleet healthy,” said the captain. “We have a really good relationship with the Airmen in the 5th LRS (Logistics Readiness Squadron). They are very aggressive in finding the needed parts and a big part of our successful MC rate.” 

At certain intervals, the B-52 is sent to depot at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., for a major overhaul of the aircraft. The aircraft spend about six months there and the teams look at the internal structural integrity, all aircraft systems, check the functionality and add any modifications to the aircraft before returning it to operational duty. 

“Our wing jet is coming out of phase inspection this week. This jet is almost in the same pristine condition as it was when it came off the line in 1960,” said Colonel Lane. “The quality of Airmen, NCOs, Chiefs and officers in this maintenance organization are the best I’ve seen in 34 years of my career.” 

(Editor’s Note: Read the next three editions of the Northern Star to learn more about the maintenance of the B-52 in the three-part series “Maintaining the Fleet”.)
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