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Kessel Run brings new software to Vermont ANG aircraft maintainers

Maj. Jennifer Kannegaard, left, a product manager for the Mad Hatter F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter software project, leads her software design team to a working area for 57th Wing Bolt Aircraft maintenance unit maintainers April 10, 2019 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Kannegaard’s team is working to equip Nellis maintainers with programs that will quickly and easily locate the most up-to-date technical orders for use in aircraft maintenance. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee Darbaise)

Maj. Jennifer Kannegaard, Mad Hatter F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter software project product manager, leads members of the software design team to a working area for 57th Wing Bolt Aircraft maintenance unit maintainers April 10, 2019, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The Vermont Air National Guard recently added 78 user accounts at the 158th Maintenance Group, during which the Airmen were able to recover, service and launch aircraft entirely using Mad Hatter applications. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailee Darbaise)

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (AFNS) -- Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing recently partnered with software company, Kessel Run to complete its first test and evaluation of their new software, a suite known as Mad Hatter, at the Vermont ANG Base in South Burlington.

In the course of two weeks, Kessel Run personnel started with zero Mad Hatter users from the Vermont ANG and grew to 78 user accounts at the 158th Maintenance Group. Airmen were able to recover, service and launch aircraft entirely using Mad Hatter applications, resulting in 10 successful sorties flown.

Mad Hatter, part of Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Detachment 12, or Kessel Run, is organized under Air Force Materiel Command in partnership with the F-35 Joint Program Office and other entities. They are a government entity and software development organization based in Boston, and are primarily focused on employing new technologies to modernize the Air Force, including innovating F-35A Lightning II maintenance.

“Kessel Run is the Air Force’s first real foray into trying to do software better, smarter, faster with modern technology,” explained Alexander Morris, Kessel Run portfolio owner and Air Force civilian employee. “Inside Kessel Run, we have two branches. One is air ops … We’re under wing ops, which handles aircraft maintenance. Mad Hatter is the product name, it’s our customer-facing name for everything we make. Right now, it’s eight different applications all rolled up together.”

The Kessel Run team arrived in South Burlington in late January to provide user briefings on the functionality of the Mad Hatter suite and to complete onboarding for the first group of users. Throughout their first week in Vermont, they observed F-35 flying operations, gathered and responded to user feedback and resolved issues where needed, further completing onboarding during January’s drill weekend.

On average, members of the 158th MXG were able to create a new account in a single day. Mad Hatter accounts are able to be created by the user, in-house, in a much shorter amount of time, and these Airmen were able to start using the application immediately. Lockheed Martin’s Autonomic Logistics Information System has proven to be a timely process that requires filling out request forms and waiting on approval from a third party in another office, who then creates the account on the requester’s behalf. This often takes weeks or months, reducing the efficiency of onboarding new maintainers.

“Mad Hatter is a program working with Kessel Run and the DoD to create a more user-friendly program for the F-35,” said Tech. Sgt. Leah Curtin, 158th MXG crew chief. “Basically, to make the job easier for not only for the maintainers on the flightline but also for production and being able to schedule maintenance easier, schedule flying and have the program all in one, live and up-to-date so anyone can actually keep tabs on what aircraft is flying, what aircraft is maintenance and a better way to fix the jet in a reasonable amount of time.”

To address those tasks and improve the efficiency between roles, the Mad Hatter suite is currently composed of eight different applications to include fleet management, personnel management, audiovisual (AV) schedule, technical orders, AV configuration, debrief, work orders and aircraft status, all of which work in conjunction with Lockheed Martin’s ALIS.

“We’ve got eight different applications that are designed to take the functionality that is in F-35’s ALIS and modernize it to the point where we save thousands of maintenance man hours per year in duplication of entry, scheduling our folks more effectively to work on the flightline,” Morris said. “Our eight different applications – which we’ve started with and we’ll probably grow into a couple more in the future – are significantly more user-friendly, when they’re hosted in the cloud. They’re going to be adopted by the F-35 Joint Program Office into a massive overarching modernization effort.”

The primary advantage of the Mad Hatter platform is the ability to pull and transfer data between all eight applications and integrate that information into an intelligent display and readout that is consolidated onto a single screen, capable of updating in real-time due to the use of modern software technology.

“Mad Hatter provides several applications … all within one program (that is) very simple to navigate. It’s also very user-friendly in the way everything views, whereas ALIS, you have to go back and forth between windows just to accomplish one objective. Mad Hatter … it’s all right there on one page,” said Senior Airman Liam McKelvey, 158th MXG crew chief.

Used on government computers, the Mad Hatter interface can be accessed sitting at a desk inside an office or transferred outside, such as on the flightline, by using mobile computers with touchscreens. The Wi-Fi connectivity and application integration provide ease of use, while the use of cloud storage provides modern security.

Curtin explained that Mad Hatter has made their jobs easier, as it can be used on the go. She continued that there is excitement that the portability will allow crew chiefs to fill out forms and complete jobs immediately on the flightline, rather than hours later back in the office.

With an emphasis on user experience, the Kessel Run group was focused on developing maintainer-to-software developer relationships during their visit to the 158th FW. During this training, 21 Kessel Run employees visited Vermont at varying times to be able to interact with Airmen. They shadowed maintainers who were using their products for the first time, provided training and tips for use, and gathered feedback on how to improve the software and user experience.

Establishing such relationships allow for coders and designers to have direct contacts for feedback, providing Mad Hatter product teams with a wealth of knowledge from the maintainers in Vermont who provide product and user experience feedback. In return, the Boston-based team is available to provide regular help-desk support on all applications and is quick to understand, respond and meet the needs of the F-35 maintenance community by talking directly to the maintainers using their products.

“Two weeks ago, I was introduced to Mad Hatter and I’m hoping it becomes a thing here and Air Force-wide,” McKelvey said. “So far, the product has been pretty handy, pretty user-friendly and pretty easy to navigate, especially compared to (other products).”

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