OC-ALC, Navy cooperate with more work on E-6

The 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Tinker’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center is scheduled to begin work on the Service Life Extension Program for the Navy’s fleet of E-6B aircraft flown by Strategic Communications Wing ONE here. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

The 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Tinker’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center is scheduled to begin work on the Service Life Extension Program for the Navy’s fleet of E-6B aircraft flown by Strategic Communications Wing ONE here. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Workers from the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron will begin work next month on the first of the Navy's E-6B 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," explained Bill Cain, deputy director of the 566th AMXS. "It will require an incredible amount of hand work to replace virtually all the wing skin fasteners."

Operated by Strategic Communications Wing ONE at Tinker and used for strategic communications with the nation's nuclear assets, the E-6B aircraft are based on the Boeing 707 airframe that also serves as the basis for the KC-135 tanker and E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. The 566th AMXS already 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, 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 to receive the SLEP 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. Once the wing pin work is completed, Mr. Baumann said, crews will simply carry on with the SLEP-specific work.

The first aircraft will be finished by February. 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 over $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, with roughly half coming 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 ALC 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."