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Air Force office studies aging aircraft

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Aug. 29, 2003) -- The Air Force has created an office within the installations and logistics directorate to assess the future of its aging aircraft fleet.

Air Force Secretary Dr. James G. Roche asked Lt. Gen. Michael E. Zettler, Air Force deputy chief of staff for installations and logistics, to come up with a process to provide senior leaders with an unbiased assessment of the service's aircraft inventory, similar to the Navy's process for retiring ships.

The Air Force Fleet Viability Office has been created to provide senior leaders with an unbiased assessment of the service's aging aircraft inventory. The first study, scheduled to start in October, will assess the future of C-5A Galaxy, like the one shown here.

In answer to that directive, Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, invented the Fleet Viability Board process, and continues to support the Air Staff function.

Board officials will coordinate the studies on particular airframes and make recommendations to service leaders about the future of those airframes within the Air Force. In the past, the Air Force had no official system for determining when aircraft should be retired from service.

The board itself is not a decision-making body, Crowley said. In fact, the board’s recommendations will be presented as unbiased factual statements about an airframe.

"In terms of a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down,’ we will probably not do that," Crowley said. "Instead, we will likely use words like, 'It looks like the airframe has X amount of life in it.'"

Board officials are developing the processes they will use to assess a particular fleet. However, they will examine maintenance and depot records, as well as the cost of continuing to fly a type of aircraft and the effectiveness of its weapons systems.

"They might find more corrosion and fatigue damage at the depots," said Richard Mutzman, the board’s chief engineer. "You can look at those types of discoveries and look at … what kinds of activities will be needed to keep that aircraft viable and airworthy and what the costs associated with that are."

The board will consist of full-time technical engineers, cost analysts and sustainment logisticians, and part-time senior executive service-level civilians from the same functional areas. The senior members of the board may also include advisers from sister services, industry, government and academia, Crowley said.

"Finding the best (people) to serve as senior board members is critical," Crowley said. "(They) will eventually review and sign the reports that make recommendations about the future of various aircraft.

"I want to have highly regarded people reviewing the report, so when it goes before senior leadership, they will feel comfortable that our information is unbaised and can be used to make the best decisions for the American taxpayer," he said.

According to Crowley, the board will be fully staffed by Oct. 1, when they will begin assessing the viability of the C-5A Galaxy. He said he expects that process to take four months.