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Lakenheath’s New F-15 Inspection Procedure Nets $400K Annual Savings

Senior Airman Kenneth Rambo works to remove a rusty bolt from an F-15's ejector seat at RAF Lakenheath, England. (Adam L. Mathis/Stars and Stripes)
Senior Airman Kenneth Rambo works to remove a rusty bolt from an F-15's ejector seat at RAF Lakenheath, England. (Adam L. Mathis/Stars and Stripes)

RAF LAKENHEATH, England -- Suffering from personnel cuts and facing a failing grade from quality control, some RAF Lakenheath airmen came up with a way to improve the inspection of F-15 ejection seats, saving the Air Force 21,000 man-hours annually and achieving a near-perfect quality rating.

Airmen with the 48th Component Maintenance Squadron restructured their F-15 ejection seat shop in June to streamline the seat inspection process. In the past, the process was not as tightly regulated and airmen were not required to inspect ejection components in any particular order. Now, every seat goes through three workstations. Only certain repairs are made at each station, and a checklist accompanying each seat clearly documents the progress that has been made.

Air Force officials estimate that the new modular approach has saved $435,000 per year, a figure that includes thousands of saved man-hours of work. It requires fewer tools, and it has dramatically improved the quality inspection rate — the number of seats that pass an inspection by an independent reviewer before the seats are re-installed on the aircraft.

Officials said they previously had to keep multiple complete tool kits so airmen could work on every aspect of the chair; now each station has only those tools needed for the assigned tasks, freeing excess tools for other jobs.

F-15 ejection seats must undergo a complete inspection every three years to ensure the ejection systems work properly in an emergency, said Master Sgt. Kenneth Kelly, accessories flight superintendent. While an Air Force technical order regulates what is inspected, it does not state in what sequence parts are to be inspected, officials said.

That led to some confusion in the squadron’s ejection seat shop, officials said, with airmen following inspection procedures they had used at other bases. Airmen might not clearly document what part of the inspection they were doing, forcing other airmen to later redo the work. Managers could spend two hours just trying to find out where an ejection seat was in the inspection process.

The situation came to a head last spring, when the squadron’s airmen were ordered to inspect the ejection seats for a group of F-15s deploying to the U.S. Central Command region. Kelly said the squadron had a shortage of personnel because of Air Force reductions, and his unit’s quality assurance rate hit an all-time low of 67 percent.

“The Air Force is making cuts Air Force-wide,” Kelly said. “We’re not getting more people, so when the maintenance ramps up, we have to produce with fewer people.”

The new approach has greatly improved their quality inspection rate. Kelly said they have inspected 15 ejection seats since starting the new system and only one has failed. The failure, officials said, was the result of a factor not related to the inspection process.

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