Total Force team wins Air Force innovation award

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Adam R. Shanks
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Members of the 6th and 927th Maintenance Squadrons at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, accepted the Gen. Larry O. Spencer Innovation Award at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 17, 2018.

The award culminated from the Total Force team's ability to detect and ultimately resolve an issue affecting the Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotanker fleet.

The challenge arose when an engine at MacDill burned out and it was up to the aircraft fuel systems repair team to detect the cause. Assessment revealed that the 30-year-old “top coat” inside the cell was deteriorating and causing fuel filters to clog.

“All 16 KC-135s that MacDill had at the time were grounded and we inspected the engine’s fuel filters to see that particles of the top coat were making their way into them, preventing them from getting fuel,” said Master Sgt. Brian Owens, the aircraft fuel systems repair section chief assigned to the 6th MXS. “After we pinpointed the root cause, our team spent roughly 11,400 man-hours to restore MacDill’s fleet.”

Working two 12-hour shifts, six days a week over four months, the fuel cell Airmen tirelessly corrected the problem, and streamlined the process.

“It was a major feat for us, and higher headquarters took notice,” said Owens.

The innovation manifested by removing the deteriorating top coat, and sealing it to keep the aircraft operational. Eventually, the findings were shared across Air Mobility Command, Air Force Reserve Command, Air Force Materiel Command and the Air National Guard.

“The Air Force has more than 400 Stratotankers, and our discovery wasn’t just local to MacDill,” explained Owens. “Since the case at MacDill, technical orders are being changed and other bases are aware of the fleet-wide impact.”

MacDill’s Total Force team’s efforts saved nearly $220 million in engine damages and ensured constant contributions to rapid global mobility. With MacDill’s fleet up to 24 KC-135s, aircraft fuel systems Airmen strive to provide unwavering support to the aging aircraft, and keep fuel flowing around the globe.

"The work load we had was similar to a deployed environment," said Senior Airman Adan Jimenez, an aircraft fuel systems journeyman assigned to the 6th MXS. "With help from our partners at the 927th [ARW], we were able to pull through and resolve the issue as quickly as possible."