MOODY AFB, Ga. --- It’s not every day a pair of Reserve Citizen Airman maintainers get to help shape the future of the Air Force, but events like the recent light attack experiment can provide the opportunity.
Senior Master Sgt. Scott Lopez, 476th Maintenance Squadron maintenance superintendent at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and Tech. Sgt. Lauren Camarena, an electrical and environmental systems craftsman with the 476th MXS, travelled to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, for two months earlier this year to take part in phase two of the experiment.
The experiment tested the capabilities and maintainability of the AT-6 Wolverine and the A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to determine which plane would best fit the Air Force’s needs in a close-air-support role.
The AT-6 is a variant of the Beechcraft T-6 Texan training aircraft currently in use by the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The A-29 is in service in multiple countries around the world.
The planes flew multiple times a day, testing things like reliability, ease of maintenance and cost to operate while 26 Air Force maintainers watched and documented.
Lopez worked as the maintenance superintendent of the team observing the A-29. His active-duty counterpart, Senior Master Sgt. Ron Dedman from the 366th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, led the AT-6 observation team. Camarena served as an observer, watching directly as civilian teams worked on the Super Tucano.
“The focus on the maintenance piece was huge,” said Camarena. “It’s like the Air Force said ‘let’s look at this plane before we buy it.’”
The Airmen were not allowed to actually touch any of the maintenance during the experiment. More importantly, they were told not to express any opinions.
“We’re both very open and expressive people,” said Lopez. “So, we really had to be careful. We really toed that line.”
Each member of the observation teams signed a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting the sharing of information between the AT-6 and the A-29 teams.
“My team did their thing, their team did their thing,” he said. “We were completely separated. And we just observed maintenance.”
During the experiment, Lopez led his total force team as they documented more than 170 training missions flown in the A-29, including working with three allied special operations forces to train more than a dozen foreign joint terminal attack controllers.
“This was a joint operation,” said Lopez. Pilots selected for the experiment included Airmen, Marines, and naval aviators. He also touted the combined operations with allied nations. “It was an awesome opportunity,” he said.
The team gave the Secretary of the Air Force over 30,000 critical data points from their inspection data sheets. They compiled those sheets into weekly action reports to keep the SECAF apprised of the experiment’s progress.
Data collection, while the primary purpose of the experiment, was just the beginning.
The team also, in conjunction with the 49th Wing Weapons Standardization Section, certified Air Combat Command’s first munitions-load-qualified joint-service aircrew. They poured over more than 200 maintenance manuals and provided recommendations to build up the Air Force’s maintenance capability for the OA-X project.
At the end of the experiment, the team built manning plans for three different scenarios – operations at home station, deployed and at a forward operating base.
“It was three different scenarios, three different sets of numbers,” said Camarena, “and we all had to agree.”
They also used their observations and their expertise to create inspection criteria, technical data concepts and a structured concept of operations for the both the A-29 and the AT-6. They developed tactics, techniques and procedures that will be used to help shape the maintenance portion of the Air Force’s light attack capability.
The observation teams sat in on daily flying schedule meetings to prepare them for the potential maintenance ahead and working with the operations team to ensure they had the most access possible to the maintenance that was going on.
“The ops and maintenance relationship out there was second to none,” Lopez said. “It was really unmatched.”
Lopez said the collaboration helped expand his knowledge of scheduling practices and the command structure and language used in ACC, as opposed to Air Force Reserve Command.
He now incorporates that broader awareness into the Total Force Integration efforts between the 476th Fighter Group and the 23d Wing at Moody AFB. The 476th FG is a geographically separated unit of the 442d Fighter Wing at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.
“I think I brought back more of an understanding of close air support,” Camarena, a former C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft mechanic, said. “Coming off a heavy aircraft and you’re bringing people down to the fight – this one, you’re actually in the fight and seeing what they actually do every day and why they need to do what they do.”
The results of the light attack experiment haven’t yet been released, but Lopez expects a decision to be made in either December 2018 or January 2019. No matter which aircraft is ultimately chosen, the part these two Reserve Citizen Airmen played in the process will be felt for decades to come.
“It’s an honor to be a part of that,” Camarena said. “To kind of say ‘Hey, we helped pick this aircraft for the Air Force.’”