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129th Rescue Wing Teams up With Navy on Phase Inspections

U.S. California Air National Guardsmen, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Tidwell, (left) and Senior Airman Juan Ortiz, crewchiefs with the 129th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., remove a broken windshield from an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter during Angel Thunder 2015 exercises at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., June 2, 2015. The windshield was damaged due to flying debris. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Rachael Kane/Released)

U.S. California Air National Guardsmen, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Tidwell, (left) and Senior Airman Juan Ortiz, crewchiefs with the 129th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., remove a broken windshield from an HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter during Angel Thunder 2015 exercises at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., June 2, 2015. The windshield was damaged due to flying debris. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Rachael Kane/Released)

California Air National Guardsman Senior Airman Jeffery M. Thomas, a crew chief with the 129th Maintenance Group, works on the main rotor head of an HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter, Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., May 2, 2015. This maintenance is being conducted as part of a 50 hour flight inspection. (U.S. Air National Guard photo Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez/Released)

California Air National Guardsman Senior Airman Jeffery M. Thomas, a crew chief with the 129th Maintenance Group, works on the main rotor head of an HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter, Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif., May 2, 2015. This maintenance is being conducted as part of a 50 hour flight inspection. (U.S. Air National Guard photo Staff Sgt. Kim E. Ramirez/Released)

Moffett Federal Airfield, Calif. -- When it comes to conducting 600-hour phase inspections to ensure that helicopters are fully mission-capable, repeating the mantra "Do more with less" has its limitations.

Phase inspections, typically mandated every two years or when an aircraft accumulates 600 hours of flight time, often require up to eight maintainers at a time and can take the better part of a year to achieve, despite the allotted time frame of 30 to 60 days.

For Senior Master Sgt. Tony Quartaro, Inspection Dock Superintendent with the 129th Maintenance Squadron, finding a means to improve the workflow has been a pet project nearly a decade in the making.

"All of us have the same problem, Guard and Reserve-wide. From New York to Alaska, we don't have enough manning to get them through on a quick enough turnaround," Quartaro said. "I need seven people to do the job on the helicopter, but I only have three. Doing more with less doesn't fit the bill."

Inspections break down into three phases: Look, Repair, and Reassemble. To get an idea of how thorough an inspection must be, consider the sheer volume of parts broken down and examined piece-by-piece for hidden cracks and corrosion: blades, seats, flight controls, landing gear, gear boxes, oil cooler assemblies, fuel lines, wires, and the inner workings of the nose avionics compartment.

In short, the entire helicopter.

With five HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters at the 129th, Quartaro originally wanted the inspections to take place here at Moffett Federal Airfield. But with limited annual and special training days to invest, unit commanders didn't want to pull resources from their units. So Quartaro took it on himself to find an alternative facility--in this case the Fleet Readiness Center Southeast (FRCSE) at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

"They're very motivated to go with this program, and very knowledgeable. Procedurally, they're using this as the guinea pig to iron out their processes," Quartaro said. "What we're doing is setting them in the right direction."

Last September, Quartaro took a 20-hour, 3-day flight to FRCSE on the first HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter slated for inspection--and now he believes his counterparts in Florida will help usher in a new era.

As civilian contractors working at a Navy facility, they are perfectly suited to work on military aircraft, Quartaro said.

"It's a great opportunity to work with a service partner, and to date it's been a highly successful and effective working relationship," added 129th Vice Wing Commander Col. Daniel Lapostole, who co-piloted the aircraft. "Though the jury is still out, I'm sure we'll get a good product at the end, and going forward I hope that we can continue using a depot facility."

With the FRCSE under a 98-day contract to complete the inspection, Quartaro said the goal is to whittle the inspection time down to approximately 45 days as the process becomes more efficient. That way, he'll lose an aircraft for only a month or two versus the current 8 to 10 months.

"This is bigger than the 129th, bigger than the National Guard or Reserve. This is an HH-60 helicopter program for the United States Air Force," said Quartaro.  "I'm very passionately involved, and before I retire I want to know that I improved the Air Force."