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100% mission-capable KC-135 fleet

Three shifts of the KC-135 Sortie Generation Flight assigned to the 97th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, assemble for roll call, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.

Three shifts of the KC-135 Sortie Generation Flight assigned to the 97th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, assemble for roll call, at Altus Air Force Base, Okla. Through combined efforts, this flight achieved a rare feat and had all KC-135 Stratotankers at Altus AFB 100 percent fully mission-capable for the first time in more than 10 years. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Airman Cody Dowell)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The KC-135 Sortie Generation Flight assigned to the 97th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron managed to achieve a rare accomplishment: all KC-135 Stratotankers at Altus AFB were 100 percent fully mission-capable on April 24, 2018.

The KC-135 flight maintains the KC-135 at Altus AFB, keeping these aircraft routinely maintained to ensure quality and safe flight training for students.

“Training bases usually strive for above 80 percent mission capable aircraft,” said Jim Domian, the KC-135 Sortie Generation flight chief assigned to the 97th AMXS. “Being mission capable for a KC-135 means it can perform one of its three main missions: being combat ready, able to haul cargo or perform aerial refueling. A KC-135 being fully mission-capable means it can accomplish all three missions and doesn’t need any additional maintenance.”

It’s been a long time since Altus has last seen a complete fleet of fully mission-ready KC-135s.

“The last time this happened, the commander was Gen. Everhart, which was over 10 years ago,” said Richard Guinan, the historian assigned to the 97th Air Mobility Wing. “This is a rare accomplishment since this is an aircraft that has been here for a while.” The plane has been the Air Force’s primary refueling aircraft for more than 50 years and has called Altus home since the late 1950’s.

In order to have all KC-135s mission ready, several factors must align.

“We are responsible for the restoring the entire aircraft to fully working capabilities,” said Domian. “That includes fixing the main systems like the hydraulic, propulsion, electric and avionics systems. It’s also challenging because the KC-135 is an almost 60-year-old aircraft, which sometimes makes the process hard to get parts and it’s in constant use for training. Despite that, we have a highly skilled and dedicated workforce with above average leadership to get the job done.”

All 3 shifts of the KC-135 Sortie Generation Flight worked together in-order-to accomplish this achievement.

“It starts with distributing the work from the supervisors onto the workforce to turn those wrenches,” said Bob Aguirre, the aircraft maintenance day shift supervisor assigned to the 97th AMXS. “Then coordinating the unfinished work onto the next shift to ensure continuity and completion. It takes a group effort to get all the aircraft up and running to ensure training gets accurately accomplished.”

Even with a group effort, multiple unforeseen and uncontrollable factors can hinder the aircraft’s repair and maintenance processes.

“The main factor of making this happen was the power of the workforce, but they can only do so much,” said Domian.
Domian explains how the process can be delayed when parts are not delivered on time, the aircraft need heavy maintenance or team members aren’t equipped with the proper skill set at the time.

Nothing lasts forever. The aircraft are in constant use for training and need routine checks between flights.

“It only stayed at 100 percent for a day before aircraft needed routine maintenance again,” said Domian. “Systems break and need to be checked for maintenance. After all, that is why we are here, to ensure that the mission is accomplished safely, efficiently and accurately.”

Achieving 100 percent mission-capable KC-135s again highlights the capabilities of the maintainers at Altus AFB.

“As supervisors, we are proud that this was made possible,” said Domian. “Through general speed bumps and regular changes in the workforce, we are happy that we received recognition for our outstanding workforce that we have here.”