28 MXG puts B-1s back on track

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
"Our strategy is working," said Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, 28th Bomb Wing commander. "Thanks to tremendous efforts by our maintainers, the B-1B Lancer fleet is finally trending back to normal operations."

This announcement comes after a period of time where the B-1 had been tasked to complete more missions, with less manpower, said Colonel Taliaferro. The Air Force believes so much in what we do they are allotting additional resources to meet our maintenance challenges.

"Supporting two of every three B-1 combat rotations overseas is our challenge," said Col. James Katrenak, 28th Maintenance Group commander. "This is all done while improving aircrew and maintainer proficiency at home. Our scorecard includes aircraft availability metrics and performance against sortie [training mission] contracts. It takes the efforts of all 1,464 Airmen in the 28 MXG to make us successful."

Despite meeting sortie contracts with the 28th Operations Group for five straight months, and eight total months out of the past year; the 28 MXG still faces an uphill battle when dealing with the lack of B-1 maintenance experience among Airmen.

"The average B-1 experience level of our maintainers is less than half of what it was five years ago," Colonel Katrenak said. "This is something you cannot fix overnight. Even maintainers that come here with many stripes on their sleeves but no B-1 background are essentially 3-levels all over again. Depending upon the specialty, the systems on this jet require 18 to 24 months of training for our new personnel to be fully up-to-speed."

Regardless of the difficulties faced by the 28 MXG Airmen, Colonel Katrenak is confident the new maintenance strategy will allow the B-1 to return to a normal operating schedule.

"We have to focus on the fundamentals," he said. "It's back to basics in everything we do. Our training programs provide the foundation for our newest maintainers to build upon, and they need to be solid."

Colonel Katrenak said the quality assurance personnel play an important role in this new strategy. They validate and verify both the training programs in place and the quality of maintenance.

"Expectations are high for our first-level supervisors, as they will be leading all aspects of maintenance and training of our Airmen," he said. "First-level supervisors are the key to success in any Air Force organization, and that is especially true in maintenance."

The responsibility of front-line supervisors has increased due to manpower shortages in the 28 MXG, which pre-date the recent Air Force-wide drawdown. The summer of 2004 saw more than 1,600 enlisted maintainers working in the 28 MXG. By 2009 that number had dropped to approximately 1,200 - a decrease of 25 percent.

"For the past five years our maintainers have pulled off miracle after miracle as we've needed them to do more with fewer resources," said Colonel Taliaferro. "However, the Air Force has made a significant investment in the 28 MXG, adding 267 additional maintainers over the past year--that's about the size of a whole new AMU. Now it's up to us to make that investment pay off, and over the next year return the B-1 fleet back to normal. The biggest barrier left may be in the minds of those who don't know what normal looks like for the B-1 community, with mission capable rates well above 70 percent for decades, and we will get this fleet back to normal."

Colonel Katrenak said even though the future of B-1 maintenance is bright, there is still a long road ahead.

"Every member of our group plays a huge role in developing and improving our capabilities to produce combat airpower," Colonel Katrenak said. "Our training programs are critical, and these efforts will need to maintain momentum through our operational readiness inspection and next deployment cycle. We can further reduce day-to-day turmoil through proper planning, consistent maintenance discipline and involved leadership at all levels. The end result is a proud Airman helping to put bombs on target."