The U.S. Army is the world’s largest operator of helicopters. Soldiers not only fly many helicopters, they fly a diverse mixture, including about half a dozen types that are in the field by the hundreds. The sheer numbers and diversity of the helicopter fleet mean that any improvement in maintenance will inevitably lead to an improvement in operations, to the benefit of both taxpayers and troops.
In recent years, the Army has purposely rewarded key officers who choose to make a career in the unglamorous world of maintenance. The service is constantly encouraging innovation in its aviation branch to reshape and reform maintenance so that helicopters spend more time flying, and do so more economically.
One result is the Army Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate (AFMD), aimed at making life easier for everyone in the Soldier’s rotary-wing aviation world, especially the aviation mechanic. It’s as if the change were inspired by the aviation mechanic’s old joke that a helicopter consists of 10,000 parts rotating around an oil leak, waiting for metal fatigue to set in.
AFMD is using new methods, with emphasis on Reset, to improve the readiness, availability, and quality of Army helicopters, including the ubiquitous UH-60A/L/M Black Hawk and about half a dozen others. The directorate manages the efforts of about 3,500 people, nearly all of whom are civilian contractors, executing the Reset mission.
In addition to its showcase Reset effort, the directorate is responsible for some modification work order (MWO) upkeep on helicopters that is sometimes combined with Reset but often is performed independently, a process that keeps the fleet consistent with minor upgrades in avionics and equipment. The directorate also provides funding, but does not perform the work, for Reset of fixed-wing airplanes like the familiar C-12 Huron.
AFMD is part of Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM). Maj. Gen. James R. Myles, AMCOM’s commanding general, said the directorate is using new methods to enhance safety and reduce operational and support costs to assure that Army helicopters spend more time flying while costing less to maintain. Myles, who wears a second hat as installation commander at Redstone Arsenal, is known in the maintenance community for shaking things up and is credited with seizing the moment to create AFMD.
Col. Richard A. “Al” Evans, AFMD director, said the directorate is doing a superb job with Reset – the process of “returning an immediately deployable aircraft directly to its unit with improved operational availability and safety characteristics.” As project manager for the Aviation Reset Program, Evans oversees the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) largest rotary-wing maintenance enterprise.
A Regular Army officer since graduation from college in Tennessee in 1984, Evans has spent 22 of his 25 years in uniform in Army aviation maintenance assignments, including command of an aviation maintenance battalion. As a pioneer in the Reset process and the first commander of AFMD, Evans is setting the stage for a new era in how the Army keeps its aging but formidable rotary-wing fleet ready to fly and fight.
To put it another way, Evans’ Aviation Field Maintenance Directorate works hard on the ramp and in the back shops to make certain that Black Hawks, Apaches, and Chinooks will be at their best when Soldiers use them in operational settings and in combat. It is never far from the minds of Soldiers and civilians in AFMD that rotary-wing aviation is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and that having a helicopter perform up to specifications can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
Until recently, the organization chart for the maintenance of Army helicopters looked like a two-dimensional version of Rubik’s Cube, defying understanding sometimes even on the part of those in the specialty. PowerPoint briefings explained a confusing hierarchy and used all but incomprehensible flow charts. Part of the effort to improve helicopter maintenance was aimed at simplifying organization and management.