By Delanie Stafford, 55th Wing Public Affairs / Published March 26, 2014
Master Sgt. Steve Pakusch prepares to demonstrate how the Wolf Blending Scope is used to fix damaged compressor blades inside an aircraft hangar March 19, 2014, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. An adjustable grinding tool attached to a rod about three feet long is inserted through a one-inch port on the side of an aircraft engine, which allows Pakusch to grind down irregularities without removing the engine from the aircraft and taking it apart. Pakusch is the 55th Aerospace Maintenance Squadron production superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Delanie Stafford)
An Airman with the 55th Aerospace Maintenance Squadron demonstrates how the Wolf Blending Scope is used to grind down irregularities on damaged compressor blades inside an aircraft hangar March 19, 2014, at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. (U.S. Air Force photo/Delanie Stafford)
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb.(AFNS) --
A new tool, no bigger than a yard stick, is making work a lot easier for maintenance professionals of the 55th Wing who are responsible for keeping Offutt Air Force Base aircraft flying. The tool stands to save the Air Force hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The 55th Wing, the largest wing in Air Combat Command, operates a fleet of 48 aircraft. Maintaining these aircraft requires a considerable amount of both manpower and funds.
With shrinking budgets, offices across the base are looking for ways to save money wherever they can. This led the 1st Aerospace Maintenance Unit to the purchase of a Wolf Blending Scope, which will allow them to make specialized repairs to aircraft engines that were previously contracted out.
"The monetary savings is significant," said Master Sgt. Steve Pakusch, the production superintendent for the 1st Aerospace Maintenance Unit. "With the budgets tighter, we're really trying to come up with innovative ways to restore our capability."
Pakusch and his team are responsible for maintaining General Electric CF6-50 engines. The engines power the E-4B aircraft, which is a modified Boeing 747. Each engine contains 14 stages of compressor blades that spin in unison to create thrust. These blades can become damaged when foreign debris such as rocks are sucked into an engine, striking the blades. If the blades are within repairable limits, the damage can be repaired by grinding or 'blending' down the irregularities. If the damage is not repaired, additional stress is placed on the blades that may cause them to crack and tear.
The Wolf Blending Scope allows Offutt AFB maintenance Airmen the capability to access the blades and repair them through a one-inch hole on the side of the engine.
"It's a small camera inserted through a long 'Dremel-like' tool with an articulating tip," Pakusch said. "It lets us go into the engine and grind the blades from the outside by viewing it through the video camera."
Prior to acquiring the tool, maintainers had to commit extensive man-hours to repair the blades. The engines would first have to be removed, or 'dropped,' from the aircraft. If the engines were being repaired by contractors on-site, the top section of the engine case would also have to be removed, or the entire engine could be shipped off-site for a complete overhaul.
Now, they are able to make the repairs 'on the wing,' saving a considerable amount of time and money.
"A typical engine overhaul costs about $3.5 million -- had we brought a team in to actually repair the engine in the hangar, it costs about $160,000," said Tech. Sgt. Brad Roberts, an aerospace propulsion technician from the 55th Aerospace Maintenance Squadron's 1st Aerospace Maintenance Unit. "The boroscope blending kit costs about $60,000. We can spend two or three hours with this tool and fix the blades that are damaged, as opposed to spending three days dropping an engine."
Being able to considerably reduce maintenance turnaround time has been one of the major benefits of the tool.
"From a production standpoint, it allows us to get our aircraft out on time," Pakusch said.
Getting the aircraft out on schedule is a top priority for Pakusch and his team. The engines they are responsible for power the National Airborne Operations Center. This platform is used as an airborne command center that can support the president, secretary of defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff in the event of destruction to ground command control centers. Ensuring it's fully operational at all times is essential.
"This new tool will be a huge force multiplier," said Lt. Col. Ryan Rowe, the 55th AMXS commander. "We will decrease aircraft down time, increase aircraft availability, and we can repair 'on the wing' engines that would have previously required removal and replacement. This tool will pay for itself in one use."
Pakusch says they are currently training other maintainers on how to use the new tool, and that its small size will allow it to accompany the maintainers and aircraft wherever the mission takes it.