What's in a name? CEMIRT techs take quality personally

  • Published
  • By John Burt
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency
"Just wanted to say thanks. You guys do very good work down at Tyndall AFB...."

This was part of an email that Staff Sgt. Daniel Dinsmore recently found in his inbox. The Civil Engineer Maintenance Inspection and Repair Team, or CEMIRT, technician received the message from an Airman at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. He had assisted in the installation of a BAK-12 aircraft arresting system, newly rebuilt here by Sergeant Dinsmore himself. The Airman had been so impressed with the quality of the refurbishment that when he noticed Sergeant Dinsmore's name on a small metal placard mounted beside the absorber's instrument panel, he had to look him up and say thanks.

Positive customer response is nothing new for CEMIRT personnel. For more than 10 years, they have been the Air Force's premier center for the overhaul and repair of AAS equipment including the BAK-12, BAK-15 and Mobile Aircraft Arresting Systems. Robert Gingell, the CEMIRT chief, is proud of the AAS program and the savings his team brings to the Air Force.

"Our technicians do a meticulous job with the overhaul and provide an excellent product at considerable savings to the customer," Mr. Gingell said.

The AAS work of the CEMIRT technicians has even impacted their competition's business model.

"For many years we have forced our competitor's prices down" said Tom Kent, Tyndall's CEMIRT manager. "Now, the original equipment manufacturer just can't compete with us on the BAK-12s with gasoline engines. Their closest option today is a diesel BAK-12 for about $96,000. CEMIRT can restore a system with a gasoline engine to like-new condition incorporating our design improvements for about $70,000. We're very proud of that. Since the program was centralized at CEMIRT in 2000, we have saved Air Combat Command alone approximately $14 million on their arresting systems."

The Air Force's aircraft arresting systems are designed to safely stop an aircraft in the event of an emergency or at airfields where conditions are not present for conventional landings. If an AAS is required during landing, the pilot deploys the aircraft's arresting hook to catch a cable suspended above the runway surface. As the aircraft's hook grabs the cable and continues forward, the cable unspools a thick nylon tape from a storage reel on an AAS absorber secured on each side of the runway. These reels are keyed to a common shaft that uses two four-rotor hydraulic brakes, similar to those used on a B-52 Stratofortress aircraft wheel.

The AAS absorber uses a static pressure accumulator to hold 175 PSI of pressure on the brakes. The moment the aircraft's pull exceeds the static pressure, the braking system switches to an integral hydraulic pump. As the aircraft slows to a stop, the reels turn more slowly, reducing the hydraulic pressure on the brake and preventing a "slingshot effect" at the end of the 1,200-foot runout.

Proper performance of these barriers is essential for pilot, crew and aircraft safety. Air Force officials mandate that barriers must be overhauled or replaced every 10 years or 500 engagements.

CEMIRT technicians average 36 rebuilds a year. Their extensive four-to-five week AAS rebuilding program includes both military and civilian personnel and involves 40 individual process steps and three comprehensive quality assurance inspections. Over the past 10 years they have found ways to incorporate improvements to the barrier design. These enhancements include making key components more accessible to maintenance crews and replacing custom-made ridged steel hydraulic lines with easy to maintain flexible hoses.

These modifications were made with the base-level maintenance teams in mind. CEMIRT foreman Joe Latham is proud of these innovations.

"Other companies may cut corners, but we are always looking for ways to make it better and easier for the guys in the field to maintain," Mr. Latham said. "Even though it's reconditioned, it's a better product than what the customer could get new from a private manufacturer."

Last year, CEMIRT technicians also replaced paint primer with an environmentally responsible water-based product and switched the external paint to one which provides a tougher gloss finish. Patrick Ross, the CEMIRT powered support systems foreman, says these changes mean more than just an improved appearance.

"Some of the structural bases on these barriers are 30 years old," he said. "The customer may not even realize how bad their condition is when they send them to us. We have our fabrication and corrosion guys do a lot of improvements to the bases before they are ever painted. Afterward, the painting process helps keep the corrosion from coming back."

Before a rebuilt BAK-12, BAK-15 or MAAS is shipped to its new home, CEMIRT technicians affix a metal placard to the side of the absorber bearing their name as well as the name of the technician who did the overhaul. This feature was inspired by a similar practice used during Desert Storm of attaching ID plates to custom-built power distribution equipment. CEMIRT's nameplate or "vanity plate" as it has been nicknamed, has been a feature on rebuilt AAS barriers leaving Tyndall for more than two years.

"The reason that we started this is to increase our unit's initiative and overall pride," said Bruce Goodwill, a CEMIRT AAS equipment specialist. "Our guys have both to start with of course, but we think it gets good results."

Mr. Ross agreed.

"When our technicians are rebuilding the barriers they know that their name is going on that piece of equipment," he said. "The overall result, whether or not we get feedback from the end customer, is a good product. Our guys know their name is on it. It is a sense of personal pride and adds a little extra incentive to do the job right. We take quality very seriously here. It's personal."

When asked about the email he received, Sergeant Dinsmore smiled.

"I enjoyed that," he said.  "It was good. Not just for me, but for CEMIRT as a team. That's what we try to do here.  It's great that the word is getting out about how we rebuild these barriers and the quality work that we do."

In his email, the Robin's Airman had followed up the compliment with a request for BAK-12 information which Sergeant Dinsmore was able to provide as well.

"I like that we started putting our names on what we do," Sergeant Dinsmore added. "In the situation at Robins, we were able to help him with a question and get him the answer he needed. It saved time and it was good to hear from somebody in the field who appreciates what we do."

CEMIRT is a division of the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency, headquartered here with operations at Tyndall and Travis AFB, Calif.