Manufacture from master tooling, not drawings
More than 40 years passed between the time when pylons for the A-10 were first designed and when we were approached with the task of developing new maintenance and sustainment processes. Without a production of A-10 pylons for replacement, the U.S. Air Force made do by patching broken or worn out parts. However, after four decades of repairs, the pylons being used on A-10 aircraft bared little resemblance to the pylons that originally came off the production line.
Most parts made on the A-10 in the 1970s were manufactured from master tooling, not drawings, which sometimes resulted in significant variations from drawing to part. This tooling is no longer available, and our challenge was to reverse engineer these pylons from incomplete data to reconstruct the original part.
Canvassing the problems throughout the aircraft's history
Looking closely at maintenance records for the A-10 pylons gave our team insight into any issues or complaints that had come up over the last 40 years, providing an excellent jumping off point in this type of project. By canvassing all the problems throughout the history of the aircraft, our logisticians were able to identify where the pylons were failing. As part of our research process, we got on the “Hog Hotline” to find out what problems the aircraft maintainers were having in the field. We also interviewed maintenance crews on the ground and asked about issues they had been noticing. We ultimately pulled all this information together, and used it to create our recommendations for which improvements needed to be made.
You can never be too thorough in this industry, which is why we backed up our research with detailed looks at all tech orders — the books that give authority to maintenance crews to make necessary repairs. Tech orders are very important documents that mechanics must refer to whenever they are removing or replacing parts. In this case, we noticed that the wiring diagrams printed in the tech orders were in terrible shape. The drawings for pylons did not reflect the true configuration or the current desired baseline. The next step in our process was to reverse engineer a sampling of old pylons — furnished by the government — looking closely at how they were configured. Based on this assessment, we created a drawing package and technical orders. Taking the limited data available, we revised all the technical orders to establish the approved technical baseline. We then identified the necessary improvements and redesigned the pylon to function in its optimal service.
An Uncommon Skill Set
To reverse engineer aircraft parts requires a unique set of skills, almost akin to being Sherlock Holmes. In order for our engineers to work backward to pinpoint what aircraft parts should look like with precision accuracy, they first need to become subject matter experts. These aren’t skills or traits that people can learn in the classroom, which is one of the reasons why KIHOMAC’s seasoned engineers have become such sought after experts in the field of reverse engineering.More about our company
Our other role in this project was to build prototypes. In doing so, we were responsible for taking the new A-10’s pylon design all the way through a series of design reviews until reaching the prototyping phase. At this point, we were asked to make two of each part, then test these parts in our state-of-the-art facility and provide them to the government for flight testing.
At KIHOMAC, we take all of the tooling and design work in this type of project, and provide the government with everything that would be necessary to bring the pylon back into production.
Our team made the A-10’s pylons sustainable by fixing and correcting the technical data and technical orders, while also creating the tooling necessary to be able to make replacement parts. The improvements we developed enable the military’s crews to perform faster maintenance on the A-10’s pylons, resulting in less time spent on the ground and more time in the air.