Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas --
Laughlin’s 47th Maintenance Directorate (MX) is implementing a change to the T-6A Texan II aircraft as part of a trial to find a possible solution to an issue that has been plaguing the T-6 fleet for years.
The idea for the change came from members of the 47th MX and involves removing the gust lock, a mechanism that locks the rudders and ailerons in place. When the gust lock is engaged, it causes extra wear and tear on parts and can lead to the rudders binding, creating increased difficulty moving them.
"There has been some difficulty identifying the root cause of the T-6 rudder binding, but some of our experts at Air Education and Training Command believe the problem may lie in the gust lock system,” said Capt. Benjamin Still, 47th Flying Training Wing T-6 flight safety officer. “The gust lock removal is part of a plan to eliminate these flight control malfunctions before they result in a mishap that causes significant damage, injury or loss of life.”
While the safety of the pilots is the primary concern, the removal of the gust lock will also help make maintaining T-6s a little cheaper.
“The gust lock hasn’t caused any major safety issues yet, but it has proven to be costly for the upkeep and maintenance of the T-6 fleet,” said Robert Sandoval, 47th Maintenance Directorate T-6 division chief. “The removal should not only help ensure the safety of the pilots, it should also increase the life span of the fleet and decrease costs.”
The process of removing the gust locks began May 24, 2016, and is slated to end mid-July 2016. Currently, 17 out of the 60 planes scheduled for the removal have been completed.
After the project is finished at Laughlin, other bases in Air Education and Training Command have requested to have the modification done at their base.
“On the planes that have been modified, tested and flown, there have been no issues so far,” said Sandoval. “If the modification continues to be successful, then the change will be [implemented] at other bases.”
The largest factor in the modification has been the time it takes to remove the gust lock due to the processes that multiple maintenance shops must schedule and perform before the removal process can begin.
“First we have to make room to bring the aircraft into the shop, and then we have to have egress come down to take the seats out,” said Sandoval. “After the seat is taken out, the instrument panels have to be removed to reach the gust lock, and then everything has to be put back together before testing.”
As the process to modify a portion of Laughlin’s T-6 fleet continues, safety of the pilots remains the most important consideration.
“The overall priority is, and always has been, getting the student pilots graduated safely,” said Sandoval. “If things are safe, the production will follow, and students will graduate. It all starts here with the T-6.”