Support for high-tech recon plane goes online

Support for high-tech recon plane goes online

BY MERRY MAYER | SPECIAL TO GCN

Until recently, scheduling one of the Air Force's most sophisticated spy planes, the U-2, for maintenance or an overhaul depended on a mix of ordinary communications such as faxes, phone calls and e-mail messages.

But those technologies were slow and inefficient because U-2 planes and pilots are stationed around the world, some as far away as Saudi Arabia.

Lockheed Martin Corp. maintains the aircraft at a facility in Palmdale, Calif.

To ensure a paper trail, the U-2 Management Directorate at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., which manages the U-2 fleet, sometimes had to rely on regular mail. That added weeks to the process.
But now U-2 personnel using Web forms can schedule maintenance and alert affected pilots and mechanics in minutes.

To design the system, the U-2 Management Directorate turned to Robbins-Gioia LLC of Alexandria, Va. The company used Visual InterDev, one of the tools in the Microsoft Visual Studio Suite.

Under the hood

The new system runs under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Server on a Compaq ProLiant 3000 server with dual 333-MHz Pentium II processors, 64M of error-correcting code RAM, EDO RAM expandable to 3G and up to 109.2G of storage capacity.


The U-2 Management Directorate now uses Web forms to make maintenance requests for the Air Force's U-2 aircraft.
Although the system uses NT now, the directorate is migrating to Windows 2000, said Perry Doyle, the U-2 operations manager at Robbins-Gioia.

The system data resides in a Microsoft SQL Server 7 database. Eventually, the directorate will migrate to either SQL 2000 or an Oracle Corp. database, which is an Air Force standard, Doyle said.

So far, the system supports two Web-ready forms: the 107, which is a global re-engineering and maintenance request form, and the Program Depot Management (PDM) seven-year schedule, which keeps staff from the field to the Pentagon apprised of the long-term maintenance and modification needs of U-2 aircraft.

The Web forms have eliminated the need for paper. Staff members can fill out and submit a 107 form, which triggers e-mail messages'and all responses are done electronically, said Scott Mangrum, chief of the U-2 Airframe and PDM Branch.

Decisions are made in real time, and the information gets to everyone who wants or needs it. The directorate saved at least $10,000 in labor costs in the first year, Doyle said.

The system also has created a new way for the directorate to track and analyze data, which was impossible under the old paper process because all the files were stowed away in someone's desk drawer.

Now, the directorate can track, for example, recurring problems with aircraft built in a certain year or whether planes in a certain location show more wear and tear, Doyle said.

'I can track my metrics or track number of actions submitted by month,' Mangrum said. 'It sure beats going through a stack of papers.'

The bottom line

The new system, including hardware, software and development, cost less than $300,000, Doyle said. The server cost about $5,000, the software $3,000 and development expenses $250,000, he said.

Robbins-Gioia began work on the system three years ago and continues to add new functions.
The company will soon add Form 103, which the directorate uses to describe the condition of each aircraft before it goes in for maintenance.

Other functions to be added include: the Air Force Technical Order 22 for requesting changes and updates to technical manuals and a form for listing a running total of flight hours for each U-2 aircraft.

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