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Tiger team saves millions

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --

Earlier this year, a team of engineers and maintainers set out on a mission to fix an issue indicated by a light in their aircraft’s cockpit, but little did they know they would end up saving the Air Force millions of dollars.

For over a year, the aircraft had a fluctuating exhaust gas temperature reading during take-offs, which indicated an overheating engine.

Due to the aircraft being deployed at all times, a Tiger Team, consisting of jet, guidance and control, and electric and environmental Airmen, was given a 72-hour window to troubleshoot and fix the issue because the aircraft was scheduled to go the depot. 

A Tiger Team is a group of selected subject-matter-experts whose sole purpose is to do an inspection, or perform maintenance on a specific thing.

“Your sole purpose is that inspection,” said Tech. Sgt. Kelly Linton, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Tiger Team lead. “You’re focused; all your time and effort is spent to make sure the task at hand is done properly.”

During that 72-hour window, the team, consisting of 14 enlisted and civilian personnel, spent roughly 48-man hours thoroughly examining three out of four engines on the aircraft. 

“The EGT records engine parameters when the jet lands, and then the data is sent off to another shop here,” said Linton. “The data was reviewed and it showed engines one, two and three were trending high on their temperature readings.”

Offutt Air Force Base maintenance has worked with General Electric in the past on issues like this. 

“Since the readings have been elevated for over a year, we decided to dig deeper into the books to see every little inspection we could do,” said Linton. “When it gets sent to the depot it doesn’t get an in-depth inspection, so to save time and ensure it wasn’t returned to us with the same underlying issues, we wanted to uncover any and all problems and change them before it left Offutt.” 

The inspection found the issues they were looking for, but it also found underlying issues they didn’t know about. The results included a faulty temperature gauge and plug on engine two causing erroneous readings, air system leaks and mechanical valves not functioning properly.  

“We changed the faulty parts and sealed the components, and then we ran an operations check,” said Linton. “During an operations check, we run the engines and then download the data to see if what we fixed helped the engines operational capabilities or not.”

The Tiger Team’s efforts were successful, as a test flight between Nebraska and Texas showed an improvement on all three engines and indicated normal operations.

“When you run an engine on the ground you don’t get the same data as you would real-time,” said Linton. 

While engine two showed the most improvement, a decision was made to send that engine to Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, to be overhauled.

“It has had over 14,500 operating hours and had never been back since its inception,” said Christopher Highland, 

The Tiger Team was able to save the Air Force upwards of $7.6 million in overhaul and repair costs.  

“It’s our job to make sure these engines are maintained properly, and it does give us all a huge sense of pride knowing we saved the Air Force so much time and money,” said Linton. “It’s also a big deal for the junior Airmen that were a part of the Tiger Team. They were able to see the big picture of how important our job is to keep aircraft in the air.”