SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --A 10-member pilot test team assigned to Air Combat Command’s directorate of logistics set up shop at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., April 28, to work with 20th Maintenance Group Airmen testing the use of iPads to view maintenance technical orders. Senior Master Sgt. Ed Dierkens is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the pilot test team who said his crew is set up for an eight-week test to determine whether or not the iPads can replace more expensive tough books and still provide maintainers the vital information they need. Technical Order manuals are used by all Airmen who perform any type of maintenance on equipment or aircraft. Technical orders provide maintainers with step-by-step instructions as they carry out their duties.
Currently, electronic TOs are loaded onto ruggedized laptops, but suffer from frequent crashes and very limited battery life. The iPads hold the same information, have significantly longer battery life and don’t require a CAC log on. This last feature saves significant time when checking out the tool prior to beginning a shift.
Dierkens said the iPads have the ability to provide an all in one device that weighs just over a pound and a half, with superior battery life and the ability to connect the Airman working on the aircraft to the rest of the production chain, ultimately reducing wait times.
For now, Dierkens said the iPad test is only being conducted across ACC and could forge the way for the rest of the Air Force if proven effective and efficient.
"If all goes well, Shaw will receive an additional 292 iPads. After Shaw is complete we will equip the rest of ACC on an operational need,” said Dierkens.
Senior Airman Matthew Leke is a tactical aircraft maintainer who said that beyond durability and increased proficiency, the iPads will also help with communications and productivity
“The iPads make it a lot easier to get hold of an expediter,” said Leke. “You no longer have to wait for them to come into view and flag them down. You can just put their name in the chat and send them a message."
The collaboration application includes texting and chat room type capabilities, allowing multiple individuals to monitor specific activities around the maintenance group, in addition to providing a longer battery life for the TO viewer.
“The value of these tests is to prove iPads can replace the very costly tough books as a TO while simultaneously enabling maintainers to collaborate,” said Dierkens.
One of the overall Air Force benefits is an approximate reduction in eTool procurement by $2.4 million annually, continued Dierkens.
More than 15 training sessions were conducted for approximately 275 personnel on operating procedures for the iPads, allowing Airmen to become familiar with them before using the technology during real-world maintenance operations.
“Initial training was provided prior to the iPads being issued,” said Leke. “However, for someone who has never used an iPad or iPhone it’s a little bit tougher to get used to.” One key question, initially brought up by the maintainers, was the durability of the iPad and whether or not the technologically advanced tool would withstand the beating over time. “There have been zero broken iPads so far,” said Dierkens. “Initial feedback is very positive.”