TINKER AIR FORCE BASE: Workers from the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here will begin work next month on the first of the Navy’s E-6B Mercury aircraft scheduled for a service life extension program refit.
The refit will involve inspecting and replacing up to 15,000 fasteners on the aircraft’s wings. Fastener holes will also be widened and strengthened, extending the lifespan of the aircraft for another 20 years.
“That’s the extent of the program, but it’s very labor intensive,” said Bill Cain, the deputy director of the 566th AMXS. “It will require an incredible amount of hand work to replace virtually all the wing skin fasteners.”
The E-6B aircraft is operated by Strategic Communications Wing One at Tinker AFB and used for strategic communications with the nation’s nuclear assets. The aircraft are based on the Boeing 707 airframe that also serves as the basis for the KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3 Sentry, an airborne warning and control system aircraft. The 566th AMXS performs enhanced phase maintenance on the E-6 in addition to its main duties in refurbishing the E-3. The unit is highly experienced in maintaining the 707-type airframe.
“They’re taking advantage of that vast 707 experience we have from the E-3,” said Bill Baumann, the squadron director of the 566th AMXS.
The work will be similar to work done on Air Force aircraft, although the Navy prefers a cold-working process to strengthen the fastening holes. The process is effective, but time consuming as it involves the physical removal and inspection of each fastener as well as rework of the holes. Work on the first E-6 will begin near the end of September with the 16th and final aircraft rolling out of the hangar in the spring of 2013. The first aircraft to undergo the SLEP refit will also have the wing terminal pins replaced. The first aircraft will be finished by February.
Once the wing pin work is completed, crews will simply carry on with the SLEP-specific work, Mr. Baumann said.
Mr. Cain said an estimated 28,000 man hours of work will be required for each aircraft, which is slightly less than the 35,000 hours required to refurbish an E-3 during depot maintenance. The SLEP is estimated to cost just more than $3 million per aircraft. But, he added, the cost and amount of work may change once the first aircraft is completed and they have a better idea of the actual amount of work involved.
The additional workload, however, will require the hiring of additional workers, Mr. Baumann said. Approximately 70 workers will be assigned to the E-6 work; roughly half of those will come from additional hiring. The workers assigned to the SLEP project will also undergo considerable additional training in the cold-working process.
“There will be a combination of classroom training and a significant amount of on-the-job training,” Mr. Baumann said.
Although the Navy and the ALC already have a close-working relationship, sharing parts and expertise as necessary, Mr. Cain hopes the SLEP contract will prompt the Navy to award the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center additional work.
“Over the last several years we’ve been doing work for the Navy,” Mr. Cain said. “There could be additional Navy work in the future based on the success of this effort.”