908th looks to industry to accelerate change and readiness

  • Published
  • By Bradley J. Clark
  • 908th Airlift Wing

The 908th Airlift Wing was announced as the preferred location to host the MH-139A Grey Wolf formal training mission in November 2020.

Since then, the wing has been working tirelessly to lead what has been described as the Air Force’s most difficult mission change in its history.

One of the reasons why the transition has been dubbed the hardest ever, is because the aircraft has never existed before. The MH-139A Grey Wolf is the military variant of the AW139 helicopter and was designed to be a direct replacement to the Air Force’s aging fleet of UH-1N Huey helicopters. The Grey Wolf provides the ability to cruise 50% faster and farther than the Huey, while also having a 30% larger cabin and capability to lift 5,000 pounds more.

The MH-139A Grey Wolf is a multi-capable twin-engine helicopter capable of providing a wide range of mission support, depending on the aircraft’s assigned Major Command. While the platform provides search and rescue capabilities to all commands, it also is slated to provide emergency security response for nuclear security missions within Air Force Global Strike Command and contingency response and airlift to Air Force District of Washington.

Additionally, the MH-139A will provide support to secondary missions within Pacific Air Forces, Air Force Materiel Command and Air Education and Training Command, ranging from general operations support to medical evacuation.

Currently, there is no school or training program that exists in the entire Department of Defense for maintainers to learn how to fix, repair, and maintain an MH-139A Grey Wolf Helicopter, let alone one that would fully certify that person as a mechanical or technical maintainer.

Currently, there is no school or training program that exists in the entire Department of Defense for maintainers to learn how to fix, repair, and maintain an MH-139A Grey Wolf Helicopter, let alone one that would fully certify that person as a mechanical or technical maintainer.

After the 908th divested the last of its C-130s in April 2022, the members of the 908th Maintenance Group have been finding innovative ways to use their time to prepare for the new mission, accelerate change, and enhance their readiness as multi-capable Airmen, from partnering with the Community College of the Air Force to create a path for a Federal Aviation Administration Airframe and Powerplant Certification, to working with other helicopter units throughout the DoD.

With the mindset of innovation ingrained in the wing’s culture, and the members of the 908th MXG already leading the push for their members to be ready for the new helicopters ahead of schedule, the unit has turned to the civilian industry for a new opportunity.

Since January 23, 2023, more than 20 maintainers from the 908th have spent a minimum of 30 days each watching first-hand; learning tactics, techniques, procedures, and best practices, on how to effectively maintain AW-139s from the Chevron Corporation in Picayune, Mississippi.

Master Sgt. Timothy Hill, 908th Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, and Tech. Sgt. Lloydstone Jacobs, 908th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron mechanical maintainer, were two of the first 908th maintainers to embed with Chevron’s maintainers at their facilities.

“It was extremely beneficial for us to be at their site with them,” said Hill. “It gave us an opportunity to see all that they do, and to receive mentorship and build relationships with their maintainers.”

Jacobs echoed Hill’s remarks, and added, “I believe this is going to help speed up our process of transitioning to the MH-139A Grey Wolf.”

The idea for the partnership came from senior leaders in the group including 908th Maintenance Group Commander, Lt. Col. Stuart Martin, along with Chief Master Sgt. Quincey Hester and Master Sgt. Joel May, both maintainers who also work in the 908th’s Program Integration Office, helping lead the way for the wing in all things dealing with the transition, and they started discussing the possibilities with Chevron in December 2022.

According to Jacobs the partnership was created almost out of necessity.

“The training program started out of a need to bridge the academic and practical sides of rotary maintenance while keeping our troops mentally sharp in down time,” he explained. While Hill added, “And to increase our skills for the upcoming mission change to MH-139 Helicopters.”

The first group of 908th maintainers to take part in the training program with Chevron’s U.S.A Gulf of Mexico Aviation Unit were five members including Hill, starting on January 23, 2023, and staying for 48 days. Hill stayed for 51 days to help facilitate the transition for the next group of five members. Now maintainers can expect to spend approximately 30 days in the program.

According to Jacobs, all mechanics, technicians, and supervisors are eligible to enter the program while Hill added that personnel who have already completed the basic rotary course either at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona or at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

According to Jacobs, the training was informal and focused on an overview of the AW-139 aircraft, while Hill added that it was mostly over-the-shoulder training with Chevron’s maintenance personnel on the AW-139 helicopter.

“An average day entailed gathering tools and tech data before executing the specific inspection at hand,” explained Jacobs.

Hill added that they “trained on various components and their theory of operation, the removal and replacement procedures of the components, and inspection criteria.”

Hill felt that the most valuable thing he learned while in the training was “just how many moving parts there are on the helicopter, how critical it is to ensure you pay very close attention to everything you are looking at during all tasks, and just how unforgiving this airframe is compared to a C-130.”

Jacobs found his most valuable takeaway to be very similar to Hill’s.

“The single most valuable thing that I’ve learned is just how vastly different a rotary aircraft is from a fixed wing aircraft that we’re accustomed to working on,” said Jacobs.

Both Hill and Jacobs see the value in the training, not just for the individuals receiving it, but for the unit and the future as well.

“This is beneficial to me as a member because it affords me not only an opportunity to get a head start on the aircraft but to also get myself comfortable working on it,” said Jacobs.

“It is very beneficial to me and the unit because going from fixed-wing aircraft to rotary-wing is a huge difference,” explained Hill. “This training will assist us with the future training with the manufacture, by giving us 139 experience prior to going to Philadelphia.”

While there are going to be many differences between the civilian AW-139 version and the military MH-139 A version, the basics of the aircraft are still going to be very similar. Having a chance to train with experienced maintainers on an aircraft so similar is extremely valuable, especially when those maintainers are willing to share their wealth of knowledge with the 908th members.

“The one thing that stands out is the most is the amount of knowledge that any and everyone employed at Chevron’s facility not only had but were willing and able to share at any moment,” stated Jacobs.

Hill agreed with Jacobs.

“It is invaluable,” explained Hill. “All the mechanics at Chevron are so smart and experienced on the 139, and by getting the chance to learn from them, it only increases our knowledge for our upcoming mission. We also gained a lot of contacts from the mechanics, and they are eager to help us down the road on future issues we may come upon.”