LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
In Feb. 2016, storms gathered over Val Verde County, Texas, bringing strong winds and hail, briefly stopping power in the city of Del Rio, Texas and leaving Laughlin’s aircraft between an icy rock and a cold, hard place.
“One of the things that I noticed about the storm was just the persistence of it—, it started and didn’t stop,” said John Jasper, 47th Maintenance Directorate T-1A Jayhawk division chief. “When we got on base, we immediately knew it was worse out here than it was in town because the windows were broken in the guard shack and there were cars with busted windows.”
After the storm passed, members of the T-1 staff returned to find aircraft looking more like the dimpled surface of a golf ball rather than their traditional aerodynamic shapes.
“The surfaces were just riddled with dents,” Jasper said. “You would think a machine made it because there were just so many.”
Without delay, the maintainers of the 47th Maintenance Directorate got to work on repairing the aircraft back to being flight ready, but discovered the T-1s were hit harder than the T-38C Talons and T-6A Texan IIs.
“Some days we couldn’t even complete a taxiway row,” said Juan Garcia, a 47th Maintenance Directorate T-1 aircraft mechanic. “There are only six aircraft to a row. Everything on the aircraft was damaged, elevators, flaps, rudders. We had to work a lot of hours.”
Before the storm, the T-1’s were running smoothly with 28 or more available aircraft out of the inventory of 42, but immediately after the storm, that number was brought down to around six functional aircraft.
“We went through a lot of growing pains,” Jasper said. “You’ve got a 24-year-old airplane, and then you start tearing it apart. You find stuff that you didn't intend to find, I call it the ‘sunshine effect’. That’s just the nature of the beast.”
The ‘sunshine effect’ is a term that refers to finding more issues the deeper one looks at a problem.
After removing the damaged aircraft skins and cowlings, it revealed that more parts like wing struts, fuel cells and spars needed either replacement or love, care and elbow grease.
“The parts issues have been just miserable,” Jasper said. “When a new part comes in and it doesn't work, we submit what we call a deficiency report. So last year, we submitted 95 deficiency reports. To put that in perspective, there’s 52 weeks in a year, so there’s over a report a week. It’s like going down to the mechanic and getting a part for your car, and then it doesn't fit or work so you return it. You know, that alone is a workload in itself.”
In addition to the T-1 shop working day-in and day-out to return the fleet to its former glory, instrumental in helping were the other shops and agencies around base like the fuels shop, the corrosion control shop, sheet metal shop, and the T-6 and T-38 repair shops.
“We couldn’t have done this without them,” Jasper said. “There's not one organization on this maintenance complex that didn't have contributing hand in this thing. The real story here is how everything kind of pulled together and overcame a lot of obstacles.”
Despite having issue after issue with unfavorable weather, repairs, supply and coordination to repair the aircraft, the 47th Maintenance Directorate achieved the Air Education and Training Command minimum available aircraft for Laughlin of 28 available aircraft.
“On March first we, for the first time in three years, we actually had 33 airplanes ready,” Jasper said. “We haven't sustained 33 this month. We’ve been holding strong at 29 for, so far, three days in a row. But you know we're getting real close.”
In the face of all obstacles by nature and mankind, the men and women of the 47th Maintenance Directorate have been well on course to dust off their clothes and prepare to take the challenges of the future head on.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. For 30 to 35 years and as a retired chief master sergeant., and this is the finest group I’ve ever worked with.” Jasper said. “We’ve broken a few eggs, but the omelet is almost ready.”