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Teamwork, innovation eliminate Travis C-5 'cannibalization' jet

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- For the past 30 years C-5 maintainers at Travis AFB, Calif., have borrowed parts from what they called a "canned bird" while ones they've ordered made their way through the Air Force supply system.

That practice, known as cannibalization, is now a thing of the past at Travis thanks to members of Air Force Materiel Command improving the supply chain and making C-5 parts more readily available.

In fact, Al Fatkin, Warner Robins Air Logistics Center strategic airlift directorate deputy director, said many parts that used to take weeks to get are either on the shelf or arrive in a matter of days, making C-5 reliability rates higher than ever before. The Georgia-based air logistics center is home to all C-5 programmed depot maintenance.

Due to AFMC's efforts, operations officials at Travis launched their last cannibalized jet into operational status more than nine months ago, ending a practice common to C-5 units since the fleet's initial bed down in 1969. In addition to the Travis success, fleet-wide C-5 Mission Impaired Capability Awaiting Parts, or MICAP, hours - the total time aircraft couldn't fly due to parts or maintenance issues - have declined from 1.8 million in January 2001 to 300,000 as of November 2003, he said.

Additionally, the fleet cannibalization rate, measured by the number of cannibalized items per 100 sorties across the Air Force, has reduced from 55 in fiscal year 1998 to 22 in fiscal year 2003, he said.

"For more than 30 years, a dedicated C-5 cannibalization jet was universally accepted as a necessary evil," said Lt. Col. Dennis Daley, 60th Maintenance Group deputy commander at Travis. "Most people would agree that during the 1990s when spares availability reached some of its lowest points, the possibility of operating a C-5 base without a cannibalization jet was impossible."

A cannibalized jet is a designated aircraft that maintainers pull parts from to get operational aircraft airborne while they're waiting on ordered parts to arrive.

Colonel Daley said that in 1999, Travis' annual C-5 fleet cannibalization rate was 59.7 canns per 100 sorties, compared to today's 3.8. The achievement represents a major accomplishment not only for Travis, but for dedicated Air Force logisticians stretching from Corridor Two in the Pentagon to repair benches at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Robins AFB, Ga., to the maintainers on the flight line.

Maintainers, and their logistic readiness squadron counterparts, adopted an attitude change that fostered innovation and a desire to help themselves instead of just relying on the system to provide parts, Colonel Daley said.

Further, a series of funding, policy and programming initiatives at Air Force headquarters, AFMC and the Defense Logistics Agency provided the foundation for improved spares readiness.

In AFMC's role, Mr. Fatkin said command experts' better understanding the supply chain for the C-5's 74,000 stocklisted components led to reduced backorders and MICAP targets. For the 2,500 parts C-5 System Program Office experts manage, they've arranged long-term repair and buy contracts for major components.

"We also developed overhaul kits to replace worn components vice repair on demand for 27 flight control components," Mr. Fatkin said. "And we've initiated an intense effort to increase contractual coverage and supportability of low-demand items."

"A lot of people thought this problem was unsolvable," said Lt. Gen. Richard Reynolds, AFMC vice commander. "That in itself, I think, is a potential outcome of what I call enterprise thinking -- that being the unsolvable may be solvable when we get out of our stovepipes. This is a perfect example of people with a common goal going across organizational boundaries, which sometimes means across stovepipe boundaries, to get something done."

Colonel Daley said officials at Air Force headquarters, DLA and AFMC developed a coordinated strategy to arrest the readiness decline of the 1990s. Air Force officials successfully developed one-time supplemental funding totaling $904 million in spares in fiscal year 1999.

With funding and policy changes, spares availability increased, he said. The C-5 fleetwide Total Not Mission Capable for Supply rates improved 34 percent between 1996 and 2003.

With the improved spares posture, the stage was set for a Travis attempt at eliminating their cannibalization jet. While the higher headquarters initiatives got Travis to "third base," Travis' teamwork and an innovative attitude brought them "across home plate."

"A close working relationship with Warner Robins ALC further improved the response to potential show-stopper MICAP conditions. And the excellent relationship between the active duty Travis maintenance team and its reserve associate wing greatly improved local repair capabilities," Colonel Daley said.

"There are probably other problems out there that we can take an example from in how we approach this," General Reynolds said. "This kind of innovation, this kind of application of enterprise thinking is probably going to be more appropriate as our fleets continue to age, as we find other systems, other MDS and other capabilities that are challenged by aging. Let's take advantage of this and capture the lessons learned and go ahead and apply them."

Colonel Daley said the cannibalization jet at Dover AFB, Del., is next in the elimination crosshairs.