VTANG Airmen Bores Through Corrosion
By MSgt Daniel DiPietro, 158FW
/ Published October 29, 2015
South Burlington, Vt. -- Not all airmen like to be recognized for good work, but that's what one Airmen got when he created a new revolutionary tool to fix F-16s. The state of the art tool gets jets back in the air in record time securing their place in the defense of our great nation.
Master Sgt. Richard Miller, a machinist technician for the 158th Fighter Wing, has received recognition from as far up as Air Combat Command four-star general Gen. Herbert Carlisle. The "Horizontal Box Beam Boring Tool" a reusable tool that allows a single person to fix a structural issue on F-16s that traditionally takes up to a year to fix depending on Hill Air Force Base's depot teams schedule. Then, it takes three Airmen two weeks of work to remove and reinstall a major portion of the aft end of the aircraft. This new process saves the U.S. Air Force over $33,000 per fix.
"We're looking for this type of thinking across the force," Gen. Carlisle stated. "And I want you to know that you're acting on opportunities to improve our fleet every day."
Although Miller is grateful, he said much of his extensive work as a civilian machinist benefitted his knowledge enabling him to come up with the solution.
"It was my intent to get one airplane back in the air," he explained. "I had no idea it would get the notoriety it has gotten. When I saw we could have a jet down for an entire year, I wanted to fix it. We need to have all the iron in the air all the time."
The inspiration came when the VTANG had an F-16 that was non-flyable because of corrosion in the horizontal stabilizer box section. The Depot from Hill Air Force base was brought in to fix it. Observing the fix, Miller took note as the team dismantled the entire aft section, filed the corrosion off, inserted the repair and then rebuilt the back of the craft.
Later when another plane had similar corrosion and the Depot team was backlogged out for a year Miller asked for permission to build a tool he thought could do the job quicker and easier while still being accurate. Within a week he had shaped and molded a new tool calling it a Horizontal Box Beam Boring Tool.
Air Force engineers were so impressed they flew him and his tool over for a demonstration. Comprised of a base plate, spindle holder, spindle and stop collars all made in-house and only costing about $1800, including man-hours, Miller may have provided a new standard operating procedure that will be disseminated Air Force-wide. Before he left they converted his mechanical drawings into Computer-Aided Design (CAD), had him go over procedures to create the tool and then mentor Airmen on how to use the tool.
The Horizontal Box Beam Boring Tool has a steep learning curve. Because of his extensive background in the civilian work in the civilian work force, he was worried if some of the technical aspects of the tool would be easily translated to younger Airmen. It turned into being an excellent mentoring opportunity for him to impart his knowledge.
"The Aircraft Metals Technology career field within the Air Force is kind of a specialist one," Miller said with a smile. "Anyone who's worked on the outside knows that you're kind of like the mechanical problem solver when it comes to designing and building new tools."
The 158th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Patrick Guinee, is very proud of Miller's accomplishment stating, "MSgt Dick Miller is a patriot who possesses an extraordinary gift, the ability to visualize solutions to problems and then create the tools and procedures needed to make it possible. He is incredibly talented and I am proud he is a Green Mountain Boy!"
Despite all the recognition and being asked to fly all over the country to help other bases get their grounded planes fly-worthy, Miller refuses to let any of this go to his head. The only thing he said he wants is for the VTANG to look back after he's left and say, "In 1989 we hired a machinist, and that's what we got."