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Modifications to extend service life of A-10s

  • Published
  • By G.A. Volb
  • Ogden Air Logistics Center Public Affairs
At first glance the A-10 Thunderbolt II cockpit looks like a Category 5 tornado just touched down in the middle of it.

The chaotic scene, with hundreds of loose wires and instrumentation ripped from consoles, is really the beginning of modifications that will extend the service life of A-10s while increasing their capabilities.

Known as the precision engagement, or PE, program, the plan is designed to facilitate the use of smart munitions and update the cockpit so it is more in line with that of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The 508th Aircraft Sustainment Wing and 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group here are leading the effort to bring the aircraft into the 21st century.

The 508th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron ensures Air Combat Command requirements regarding the jets are met.

"We work with the contractor to develop hardware and software to meet those requirements," said Capt. Michael Ballak, deputy chief for the A-10 PE program at the sustainment squadron.

"The end product is a modification kit delivered to the 309th for installation on the aircraft," Captain Ballak said.

And that is where the 309th AMXG begins the blue-collar work of putting elbow grease into the aircraft.

"The PE work consists of a huge electrical modification that involves updating the cockpit with new avionics and software, giving pilots greater battlefield awareness," said Robin Ritch, PE section chief for the 309th AMXG. "This means removing some 1,700 wires and replacing them with 14,000 feet of new wire."

Hence, the disaster that is a cockpit in transition. Once completed, the aircraft will include 10 new components, while another 12 will be upgraded.

"We'll add a hands-on throttle and stick feature, plus integrate the targeting pods," said Ms. Ritch. "The Litening pod currently uses only a Maverick missile interface that provides limited functionality. The PE modification provides integration of the Litening and Sniper XR targeting pods."

A team of about 150 Hill civilians and contractors from L3 Communications are heading up the modification.

"They're specialists in electrical systems, sheet metal, general aircraft mechanics and fuels," Ms. Ritch said. We also have some other units supporting the work including the pylon, commodities, avionics and flight test shops."

Specifically, aircraft will be turned over to customers with expanded smart munitions ability for guided bombs and other smart weapons: two multi-functional color cockpit displays; enhanced target identification and designation; wind-corrected munitions dispenser; and double the DC power, giving it the ability to climb higher and faster.

"The A-10 squadron will produce 93 aircraft in fiscal '07," said Rick Merrill, 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron A-10 production chief. "The work will include the precision engagement program, plus service life extension program and plastic media blast -- a corrosion control program. All will be sent back to A-10 combat units stationed worldwide."

The PE portion takes 90 days from wheels down to wheels up. But it is a timeline that will see marked reductions following the team's efforts in "leaning" the process.

"Lean will provide some major improvements in the process," Mr. Merrill said. "It'll bring all of the resources to those performing the work. It means technicians no longer are required to conduct search missions for parts, tooling, kits or anything else required to produce the aircraft. Bottom line is we'll be returning an aircraft that's better able to support the warfighter on the ground and in the air."

"The teamwork between the two units has been outstanding," Captain Ballak said. "No one organization can execute a successful modification alone. It takes a total team effort to pull off a modification of this size." 

(Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)