Thunderbolts provide innovation, implement fix to support F-35 program

Daniel Villela, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron mobile equipment mechanic, poses for a portrait next to the pintle hook assembly on a bobtail Sept. 14, 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Villela was the lead mechanic to provide the steps in reconfiguring and implementing a fix to the pintle hook mechanism for the bobtails that tow the F-35 on the flightline at Luke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel)

Daniel Villela, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron mobile equipment mechanic, poses for a portrait next to the pintle hook assembly on a bobtail Sept. 14, 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Villela was the lead mechanic to provide the steps in reconfiguring and implementing a fix to the pintle hook mechanism for the bobtails that tow the F-35 on the flightline at Luke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel)

A bobtail is parked outside of a Logistics Readiness Squadron facility Sept. 14, 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The bobtails, which are a specialized towing vehicle used to haul various types of equipment on the flightline, were found to have a hardware issue with the pintle hook assembly creating a FOD concern. A team of approximately nine Airmen developed an innovative solution to fix the issue now being implemented into the F-35 program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel)

A bobtail is parked outside of a Logistics Readiness Squadron facility Sept. 14, 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The bobtails, which are a specialized towing vehicle used to haul various types of equipment on the flightline, were found to have a hardware issue with the pintle hook assembly creating a FOD concern. A team of approximately nine Airmen developed an innovative solution to fix the issue now being implemented into the F-35 program. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel)

Daniel Villela, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron mobile equipment mechanic, poses for a portrait with members of his team who helped identify and create a solution for a defect on mission essential equipment Sept. 12, 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Villela was the lead mechanic to provide the steps in reconfiguring and implementing a fix to the pintle hook mechanism for the bobtails that tow the F-35 on the flightline at Luke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel).

Daniel Villela, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron mobile equipment mechanic, poses for a portrait with members of his team who helped identify and create a solution for a defect on mission essential equipment Sept. 12, 2017 at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Villela was the lead mechanic to provide the steps in reconfiguring and implementing a fix to the pintle hook mechanism for the bobtails that tow the F-35 on the flightline at Luke. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Caleb Worpel).

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Communicating, prioritizing and solving problems is one of the core beliefs of the 56th Fighter Wing. Find a problem, develop a solution and deliver results. That’s what we train for, that’s why we are the world’s greatest Air Force.

Airmen assigned to the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron are a testament to the volume of problem solving skills Airmen possess by realizing a re-occurring issue with newly implemented F-35 bobtails, a specialized towing vehicle used to haul various types of equipment on the flightline, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. Working collectively, a team of nine people developed an innovative solution that is now being implemented within the F-35 program.

“I had some customers come and say they had an issue with some of the hardware on the bobtail pintle hook wearing out prematurely and breaking,” said Daniel Villela, 56th LRS mobile equipment mechanic. “This was causing a foreign object damage concern because there was a possibility of having a large metal pin and several metal and plastic objects on the flightline that could damage F-16 and F-35 engine components. My job at that point was to figure out if this was an isolated incident or a trend.”

Villela, who is also a Tech. Sgt. for the 944th LRS reserve wing at Luke, was the lead mechanic to provide the steps to reconfigure and implement a fix to the pintle hook mechanism. The pintle hook attaches the equipment in tow to the bobtail. F-35 bobtails are the newest addition to the vehicle fleet and are part of the purchase agreement made with Lockheed Martin when Luke received the F-35.

“According to the [bobtail] operators, this had happened before on other vehicles,” said Villela. “On one occasion a bolt actually broke off. After discovering the issue was not isolated to one vehicle, I brought this to the attention of the Vehicle Management superintendent and asked if we could find out if this was happening on any other installations. We soon found out that this issue had occurred on other vehicles, on different bases.”

Once a failure of this type is discovered, a deficiency report is generated. This report is routed up to the Joint Deficiency Reporting System who tracks the issue and verifies the validity of the report determining the best course of action in resolving the issue.

“Normally when we find problems like this, we would reach out to the vehicle maintenance community and ask if anyone else has had the same problem, and if so, what they did to fix it,” said 1st Lt. John Hudson, 56th LRS vehicle management flight commander. “However, Mr. Villela and the customer service team were so quick to develop a viable fix, that we essentially sent up the problem and the solution at the same time.”

Villela and his team redesigned the pintle hook utilizing more durable parts from other vehicles as well as less parts, bringing the mechanism from the original seven pieces down to two.

The quick solution by the team was indispensable since the bobtails were not originally procured by the Air Force, explained Hudson. The bobtails were procured by Lockheed Martin, then later transferred to the Air Force.

“Due to the fact that the Air Force did not procure the vehicles, the engineers we normally go to for approval did not have any authority for the vehicles,” Hudson said. “This made us have to go directly to the vehicle manufacturer for approval, which is very unique. Stinar Corp. approved the fix, and we have since implemented it on all of the F-35 bobtails.”

The impact of the fix that Villela and his team implemented far exceeds dollar signs, Hudson explained. If a foreign object gets in an aircraft engine, parts can be propelled throughout the engine compartment and beyond, endangering fuel and hydraulic lines, controls and aircrew. Everything touched by the original object can become another projectile, doing more damage to either the aircraft or nearby personnel costing billions of dollars.

"The Vehicle Management team clearly demonstrated excellence through innovation,” said Lt. Col. Robinson Mata, 56th LRS Commander. “The VM team was presented with a unique problem having to repair non-Air Force procured vehicles. Despite the lack of higher headquarters functional guidance and engineering support, our mechanics found an ingenious way to solve and fix the problem returning critical sortie generation vehicles to its customers without further delay."

No matter how technical our operations become or how wide our global missions expand, Airmen and their ability to provide simple solutions to complex problems will continue to be the Air Force’s most treasured resource.