ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga: A new rewire flight at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., is playing a key role in keeping the aging F-15 Eagle flying for years to come.
The flight will perform a complete rewire on 122 F-15s during the next five years. The rewiring will be done on C and D models, and when complete, the flight will spend at least another five years working on E models.
The reason for the rewire is that the insulation on the existing wire is getting brittle and causing shorts, said Keith Gilstrap, the rewire flight chief. Although it has not caused any crashes, it has led to a significant amount of field repair time and false troubleshooting, as technicians try to figure out why aircraft systems fail intermittently, he said.
Work on the first plane began Nov. 13, 2009, and, when fully ramped up, they will be working on seven planes at a time, Mr. Gilstrap said. The flight currently has four planes in the hangar.
All of the planes are coming to Robins AFB for programmed depot maintenance, with the rewire being done in conjunction with that. Robins AFB mechanics did an F-15 rewire in the early 1990s, but at that time it was done in the same hangar as the PDM.
The difference this time is a “cellular concept,” in which the rewire will be done in a separate building with electricians and mechanics focused solely on that task. Mr. Gilstrap said that approach will lead to a more efficient workflow. The rewire is expected to take 72 to 77 days per plane. Mr. Gilstrap explained that in normal PDM, electricians would inspect the wiring but replace it only as needed. In the rewire program, all but a few already updated wires will be removed and replaced.
A total of 120 people will be working in the flight when it reaches full capacity, including 47 newly hired electricians. The rest of the crew is being shifted from PDM work.
“This is an all volunteer force,” Mr. Gilstrap said. “We did not have to tell one person to come here. They wanted to do something new and different and they wanted to be on the ground floor of a new facility and a new workload.”
In addition, the rewiring work will prove its worth in savings. “It is really going to save millions of dollars,” he said. “It’s going to save an untold amount of manhours out in the field, in troubleshooting and repair.”
Although the first production plane arrived in November, the flight had already tested the process on three planes in a validation and verification process.
They rely on wiring diagrams to figure out the arrangement of the massive amount of wires and connectors on the plane. Those working on the project said they enjoy the challenge. “You get to learn a lot about the aircraft,” said Eric Bickett, an aircraft mechanic.
The planes come to the hangar basically stripped down to the fuselage, with the wings, engines and avionics removed. After the rewire is complete, the wires are all connected to a large, custom-built machine called a wire integrity tester. The tester has a wire that attaches to each connection on the plane, and it virtually assures that the job has been done correctly before the plane is reassembled.
Mr. Gilstrap said the first plane is scheduled to go on the tester Jan. 21.