JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
All is quiet inside the newly renovated south end of Hangar 62 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, but in a matter of months the 15,000-square-foot area will hum with activity as instructors mold a new generation of Air Force trainer aircraft technicians.
An Air Education and Training Command initiative, the trainer aircraft maintenance training center will fill a void that has existed since the Air Force converted trainer aircraft maintenance from an active-duty career field to a civilian profession.
“The training center is an answer to a problem we have today,” said Brian Bastow, Logistics Management Branch chief for the 19th Air Force Directorate of Logistics. “We have no mechanism to train technicians on trainer aircraft.”
The demographics of the trainer aircraft technician field is changing because active-duty technicians for trainers no longer exist and the current workforce is aging, meaning that the percentage of the work force without active-duty training is growing, Bastow said.
“Trainer aircraft technicians are all civil service employees or contractors now,” he said. “The technicians who have been serving the Air Force were trained while on active duty, but many of them have retired and the remaining ones are nearing retirement.”
The Air Force reclassified trainer aircraft maintenance as a commercial activity in the mid-1980s, so it was no longer an active-duty function, Bastow said. Formal trainer aircraft maintenance training ended, but at the time it was not necessary because all the technicians had been trained while on active duty.
The Air Force now hires retiring or separating Airmen who worked on non-trainer aircraft in the service’s inventory or individuals with no Air Force aircraft maintenance background.
“Now it’s all on-the-job training for new technicians on operational aircraft,” said Bastow, a retired chief master sergeant who served as an aircraft maintenance crew chief. “Technicians who weren’t on active duty don’t have any formal training. With OJT, it takes longer to fix airplanes.”
The present initiative started in 2016 when the AETC Directorate of Logistics Engineering and Force Protection Maintenance Division petitioned Gen. Robin Rand, AETC commander at the time, to proceed with re-establishing a formal maintenance training program for trainer aircraft maintainers, Bastow said. Funds were subsequently allocated for the project, and the center is projected to start at initial operating capacity this fall and full operating capacity in the fall of 2021.
“We will have nine instructors, and four of them are already on board,” he said. “We will establish what’s called a MAJCOM Minimum Course Listing that mandates minimum training courses for technicians based on the type of aircraft and system they are maintaining.”
In addition to basic courses, the curriculum will address specialties like propulsion, flight control, avionics, egress and others.
Prospective technicians will be drawn from local high schools and colleges, and applicants will have to meet certain requirements, Bastow said.
The number of students who will be trained in the program’s initial stage has not yet been determined, he said.
“We won’t know for sure until we hold utilization and training workshops with representatives from the field to define training requirements,” Bastow said.
In addition to producing technicians for the 12th Flying Training Wing at JBSA-Randolph and Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, the training center will serve maintenance units for the flying training wings at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.; Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas; Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas; and Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Students will be trained to maintain the T-1, T-6 and T-38 airframes.
The south end of Hangar 62, following a thorough renovation project, awaits the influx of instructors, students and aircraft that will be part of the groundbreaking initiative.
“We renovated the back third of the hangar, which was used previously as carpentry and metal shops,” said Garrett Paris, 502nd Civil Engineer Squadron project manager. “A lot of demolition was involved to open up the space and meet requirements for the new mission.”
The training center features a large 10,000-square-foot open area with a resurfaced floor that will accommodate the trainer aircraft used for training, Paris said.
“The contractor also installed new lights, overhead infrared gas heaters and 10 specialized electrical components to power the aircraft,” he said.
Another feature of the renovation project was an overhaul of the large hangar doors, which were made fully operational again to allow aircraft to be towed in and out of the hangar, Paris said.
“The doors rest on big wheel assemblies and are opened by pushing them manually on a rail in a horizontal direction,” he said. “Paint was scraped off the glass window panes on the top part of the doors to allow for natural lighting.”
The training center will also include a 5,000-square-foot office area on the second floor of the hangar previously used by the 502nd CES, which still occupies the north end of the building.
“Hangar 62 fits nicely into our plans for a state-of-the-art facility,” said Mark McKeown, Maintenance Policy and Procedures Section chief for the 19th Air Force Directorate of Logistics. “There will be plenty of classroom space and plenty of actual hangar space to house the aircraft we will be training on. So students will go from classroom instruction right to the aircraft for the hands-on practical training.”
McKeown called the training center “long overdue.”
“The training center will provide the necessary training and skills to maintain a fully trained ‘white jet’ aircraft community of technicians,” he said. “It will train white jet technicians at all of AETC’s T-designated flying wings and will allow us to grow a well-trained work force as well as grow our ability to keep pace with the demand for increased pilot training for the Air Force.”