T-34C Turbo Mentors begin making their way back to Navy and Marine Corps training squadrons this month after completing standard five-year aircraft conditional inspections. Remarkably, the first T-34C aircraft completed six weeks ahead of schedule and 25 percent under budget during a pandemic.
The two-seat, turboprop trainers were waiting for stem-to-stern inspections to keep them in top operational condition, and Navy and Marine Corps flight training on track. The Navy’s Undergraduate Flight Training Systems program office (PMA-273) was working to expedite inspections and reduce turnaround times while freeing the busy Navy Fleet Readiness Center Southeast to focus on other high-priority fleet needs. The program office asked Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s in-house government lead systems integrator, AIRWorks, to help find a fast, cost effective solution.
AIRWorks is certified to AS9100D, an international standard for managing rapid prototyping and limited production of air vehicle systems and subsystems. AS9100D includes the ISO 9001:20152 standard and additional aviation, space, and defense industry requirements. Tapped by the program office to develop the project plan for improved T-34 aircraft conditional inspections, AIRWorks used its signature Project Execution Strategy process to define and meet program goals.
The program opted for a collaborative approach with AIRWorks leading the project and work got underway. The AIRWorks team had a short timeline to get work on contract and meet the deadline. With access to more than 30 industry partners on multiple award contracts available to AIRWorks, the team awarded the inspections work to Science and Engineering Services, LLC and Stevens Aerospace and Defense Systems. Inspections began early January 2020 at the contractor’s facility.
The team established collaborative working relationships at the outset of the project within the program office, as well as with the Defense Contract Management Agency, and vendors. “The key factor in expediting the project was real-time open communication,” said project manager, Rich Matos.
“We maintained awesome communication between AIRWorks, the program office, and the vendor without the middleman. And, from the very start we also worked closely with DCMA and call on them as we need help.”
Early on, Matos checked in at FRC Southeast as they conducted conditional inspections, which allowed him to baseline requirements and assure stakeholders had required information to perform inspections in accordance with FRC standards. AIRWorks’ collaborative approach proved especially advantageous when inspectors discovered corrosion issues during the first T-34C inspection. AIRWorks facilitated the FRC’s engineering support and relayed the information back to Stevens so work could continue.
The team’s collaborative, communicative approach helped them safely make progress when COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. “We discovered new and better ways to get work done in a socially distanced environment,” said Matos. “I think we became more focused because of telework. We were actually able to be more responsive, turn things around quicker, and nobody got sick.”
AIRWorks received its second and third aircraft for inspection in summer 2020, one month ahead of schedule. This allowed the first aircraft to return to the squadron when the third aircraft arrived at the contractor facility, saving additional time and resources as well as increasing training squadron readiness.
Three aircraft are expected to complete inspections in the first year of the project. All aircraft are anticipated to be complete by 2023.