OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
More than 20 Royal Air Force engineers teamed up with 55th Maintenance Group personnel to conduct an isochronal inspection of an RAF RC-135V/W Rivet Joint April 10-28, 2023.
An isochronal inspection is an in-depth periodical inspection where personnel from across a variety of career fields, and in this case two long-time allies, work together to ensure an aircraft is mission ready.
“It’s a great honor to be able to work alongside the U.S. Air Force,” said Flt. Lt. Grant Nixon, 51 Squadron. “It’s very important for us to have the opportunity to help build upon our partnership and enhance our roles in global security.”
“They’re great teammates of ours, and we try to be as accommodating as we can,” said 2nd Lt. Eli Brown, 55th Maintenance Squadron. “Everything’s gone very smoothly so far.”
Ever since the RAF received their first RJ in 2013, 51 Squadron and 55th Wing aircrew have flown countless flights together as part of a co-manning agreement between the U.S. and U.K.
However, this is just the third isochronal inspection the maintenance units have teamed up for.
“On each ISO we perform with the U.S. Air Force we take away our lessons learned and build upon on them for the next one,” Nixon said. “The ISO team work very fast and with a great deal of knowledge, which we are able to learn from and to return to unit with to help accomplish more in-depth maintenance then we may have carried out before.”
“As a smaller operator than the U.S. Air Force, we don’t get the quantity of maintenance work that they do,” said Sgt. Chris Winn, 51 Squadron. “In the three or four weeks working with the ISO team here we can get six or eight months’ worth of home experience, so it’s very valuable.”
Looking to build upon this decade-long relationship, the 51 Squadron and 55th Wing are reinvigorating their maintenance operations co-manning program.
“The Air Force and Royal Air Force co-manning RC-135 program is a benchmark for international relationships,” said Lt. Col. Brian Wersching, 55th MXG deputy commander. “By enhancing the co-manning for maintenance, we ensure proper communications are maintained and divergence in the program is minimized between the two countries.”
Just this month, the 55th MXG sent personnel to RAF Waddington, U.K., to begin 120 day rotations as part of this agreement.
“One of the differences we have is that Air Force maintainers are very specialized, whereas the U.K. personnel generally have a broader understanding of work across more parts of the airframe,” Nixon said. “As we have the opportunity to work more closely with them on a daily basis through co-manning, we’ll be able to really learn from that specialized knowledge and pass it on.”
“Co-manning…also helps ensure we are in constant communications on any updates to maintenance procedures, techniques, etc.,” Wersching said. “Our maintainers are subject matter experts in their area of expertise, which ensures their knowledge is passed to the appropriate entities in the 51 Squadron.”
Working through those subtle differences has also been part of the ongoing isochronal inspection.
“Their [technical orders], which we develop here in the U.S., have to be approved by the U.K.,” Brown said. “Sometimes we’ll push an update, and it hasn’t necessarily been signed off on their end, so we have to make sure we’re doing things that are okay with their leadership according to current U.K. tech data.”
Another small difference is how both services document their checklists during the inspection.
“The military aviation authority in the U.K. mandates that we use certain paperwork, and we record things in a certain way,” Winn said. “That’s one of the reasons why we are here is to ensure we document everything so the aircraft can remain compliant with our regulations.”
Regardless, both the 51 Squadron and 55th Wing see the benefits of this relationship far outweighing any small challenges.
“This has been absolutely fantastic,” Nixon said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience working alongside them.”
“Any chance we have to strengthen our relations with our allies like the U.K. is vital, so for our team to have this opportunity is very important,” Brown said.