TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Airmen across the Air Force have been charged by Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown to cut through the layers of bureaucracy and challenge the status quo to improve the Air Force’s decision-making timelines and processes.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Eric Fanslau, 60th Maintenance Squadron Dash-21 Aircraft Support section chief, has embraced the challenge, saving the Air Force $10 million so far with the potential to save the Air Force another $20 million, he said.
The C-5M Super Galaxy has been around 51 years. It is the largest aircraft in the Air Force inventory and hauls the largest equipment. The workhorse has moved NASA telescopes and satellites, and brought Chinook and Apache helicopters across the world at a moment’s notice. The single piece of equipment on the C-5M that makes sure those missions happen is a small, 3-square-foot winch, located in the front and rear of the C-5 that pulls this equipment on and off the monster aircraft.
“What would you do if you needed to load an Apache helicopter on a plane and the winch was broken? You would attempt to order another winch,” said Fanslau. “But when there's no more winches, you have to come up with a solution to that problem. We have created Air Mobility Command’s first winch repair facility.”
The facility is made up of a motorcycle lift, some stabilizing cables, a power box and a few Airmen with enough problem-solving experience to repair the broken winches.
“During the implementation of the dual-power winch, there was a couple of issues with the cable,” Fanslau said. “The cable will knife and the Air Force’s solution was to turn it into supply and order a new one.”
Knifing is caused on the winches from the top layer of the cable being dragged down the layer below it, creating a knot. These winches pull at over 350 pounds so when the rope gets knotted, there’s no undoing it.
“Essentially tie your shoes, but on a winch. When that happens, the winch is now useless. It will only go one direction, and that is in,” he said. “There's no way to fix that except to remove the rope and to restore the winch. It happens so often that we ended up depleting the entire stock. There are no more; they don't make any more and there's no support for these.”
This is when Fanslau decided he had to come up with his own ideas. The first thing he thought of was, “why can't we do this?”
Fanslau thought about a hobby of his, off-roading, and how his winch on his vehicle sometimes breaks, but he doesn’t replace the entire winch, he only replaces the cable.
“We went up to leadership [installation], engineering and AMC leadership,” Fanslau said. “Hey, let us just replace the cables, save some money.”
Leadership wasn’t sure how Fanslau could get data. They referred him to engineering for help on gathering information.
The Air Force has an inventory of about 120 winches that were made for the C-5. They're either in service currently or in a warehouse broken. With 26 C-5s in the Air Force, that means 52 need to be operational and each need a back-up. Each winch is valued at $535,000, and those numbers add up.
“We acquired the proper documentation, we acquired the proper waivers, and we created our own procedure on how to re-spool these winches correctly,” he said. “Every C-5 winch could potentially go through this shop, depending on how long they're in service. We are the only place in AMC that's doing this right now.”
The Dash-21 shop or aircraft support, is currently repairing 20 that they received from a warehouse in Georgia. There are 48 more sitting and waiting to be fixed. In the past, the repair and turnaround time for a new winch would be anywhere from 12 hours to a couple weeks.
Now, Dash-21 can swap out a bad winch with a good one, re-spool the bad one and have it ready for when the next winch goes bad in less than four hours.
Fanslau heard the charge from Gen. Brown in May, and turned around a broken process two months, saving the Air Force countless dollars and man hours. Numbers speak, but without challenging the status quo, the C-5’s mission could be crippled.