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Maintainers give 'Herks' extreme makeovers

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- Little Rock Air Force Base maintainers are giving the Air Force's workhorse tactical airlifters extreme makeovers

The 314th Maintenance Squadron refurbishment flight is taking battle weary, 40-year-old C-130 and in 27 work days, returning them to "showroom new" condition with a 100 percent quality assurance pass rate. The 16 person flight consists of nine crew chiefs and seven structural maintainers. In addition, seven survival equipment technicians and the electro-environmental, avionics and isochronal avionics back shops step in to literally turn yesterday's technology into tomorrow's future.

More than a cosmetic makeover, as part of the refurbishment program the team removes all equipment; sands, preps and repaints the flight deck and cargo area; recovers and replaces all flight deck seats and cargo area sound-proofing; touches up the exterior paint; and installs new anti-skid decals in the cargo area. The refurb process saved approximately $4 million in 2006.

"We take it to the extreme due to the fact we have the program down," Wing leadership wanted a program that pretty much restored a 40-year-old aircraft," said Senior Master Sgt. Earnest Heflin, 314th MXS fabrication flight chief. "It's really an art form."

"There's no other program out there like this. The alternative is to send it to depot -usually at the five-year mark, but they don't have a refurbishment program yet," he said.

In 2006, the team has refurbished five Little Rock C-130s and a MC-130-P from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.

"Kirtland pilots flew one of our C-130s overseas and got to asking what our program was all about. We signed a memorandum of agreement (to start working on their birds. This isn't just a Little Rock program," said Senior Master Sgt. Heflin "The C-130 fleet is getting older and maintaining them is getting more difficult. The return on investment is huge; we are saving approximately $800,000 in contractor costs."

Though there are configuration differences in the two airframes, the refurbishment experts' take the challenge in stride.

"It's not a cookie cutter deal. Each aircraft's program is individually tailored," said Capt. John Thomas, 314th MXS fabrication flight commander. "It fosters lot of teamwork too. There are not a lot of jobs where you get so many people from different Air Force Specialty Codes working together shoulder-to-shoulder. It shows these guys have built a team."

The team is also improving their processes to improve mission effectiveness.

"Exterior paint touch up wasn't a part of the refurb process prior to 2006. If we're going to have aircraft in our possession for 27 work days and it goes through the paint barn for a five-day window, not only are we painting the inside, we're touching up the exterior," Sergeant Heflin said. "That's a win-win situation. Aircraft maintenance units don't have to give that aircraft up at a later date for a paint touch-up."

The team members take great pride in the "wows" from aircrews after they see the finished product.

"We've heard a lot of positive responses from flight crews and people who have seen our product are amazed at what we can do," said survival equipment specialist Staff Sgt. Kelly Hutchinson. "We've heard that when our planes go to other bases, they know it belongs to Little Rock because they can tell the difference between the work we do versus what other people have done."

"When one of our planes go down range, it's the showcase," said crew chief Tech. Sgt. Mark Hettinger." Other bases want to fly our planes."

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