15 cents: how much it costs to get a plane in the air

  • Published
  • By 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
  • Senior Airman Melissa B. White
It may cost thousands of dollars per hour to keep planes in the air, but sometimes it might be a little screw, worth only a few cents, that determines whether or not an aircraft will get off the ground in the first place.

Airmen from the 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Aircraft Parts Store are responsible for supplying parts and equipment for aircraft assigned here, ensuring the mission can be completed.

"We all know how serious our jobs are, and we come to work each day knowing we all need to do our job and that we need to do it to the best of our ability," said Airman Charlie Wilson, a 451st ELRS material management specialist. "We work long hours just like everyone else, but it's an accomplishment knowing that we're keeping the planes flying, supporting the troops on the ground, supporting the mission and saving lives."

The handful of Airmen assigned to the 451st ELRS APS are busy, day in and day out, with receiving, recording, stocking and supplying various parts in their 19 warehouses on Kandahar Airfield. They support 11 aircraft maintenance units, providing for all the Air Force missions here including close-air support, airlift, rescue, aeromedical evacuation and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

"What we do here on a daily basis really affects the mission," said Tech. Sgt. Donnabele Tobias, the 451st ELRS APS NCO in charge. "We always have to make sure our warehouses and inventories are up to par because the maintainers rely on us to help them keep the aircraft in the air. You can't fly without supply."

Whenever maintenance crews need parts for an aircraft, they inform their supply specialists who are embedded within their squadron. That supply unit then contacts the 451st ELRS APS Airmen through a computer-based system. Once the request is received, they check the inventory for the part and then the customer can come pick it up at the warehouse.

"It's kind of like ordering online. They get on the computer and then they come and get it from us," Sergeant Tobias said. "Most of the time we have the parts already in stock. If it's a rare part or a piece for a transient aircraft that isn't assigned here, we have to order it, or reach out to another aircraft parts store at another base for some help.

"There was this one plane at another base in Southwest Asia recently where all they needed was a 15 cent  O ring," she said. "So, we were scrambling around to get that part shipped quickly. People usually think it's the big parts that can keep a plane grounded, but sometimes all it takes is a 15-cent piece ... and we got that mission-capable piece to them."

Their inventory of more than 250,000 parts is valued at $19 million. Their parts range from a tiny washer so small it's secured in a bag inside a cabinet drawer, to HH-60 Pave Hawk blades or a 1,280 pound radar antenna in a crate so large that it's placed outside with other oversized items. No matter the size or value, each piece is just as critical as the next when it comes to making planes ready for the mission.