The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) successfully passed its 2020 Aviation Maintenance Inspection (AMI), recently conducted over two weeks by a Commander Naval Air Forces (CNAF) Aviation Maintenance Management team.
AMI happens approximately every two years for each squadron in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps to evaluate the effectiveness of the squadron’s maintenance program practices and its adherence to Naval Aviation Maintenance Program standards. Maintenance is a critical component of command readiness.
At USNTPS contract personnel perform the school’s maintenance work, unlike most squadrons where those duties are performed by military personnel. Because of this, the CNAF inspectors did not use the traditional scoring system applied to other squadrons – nonetheless, the school did very well.
“I think the results are a direct reflection on the level of professionalism we have in the hangar,” said Lt. Andrew Fedak, USNTPS maintenance officer. “I’m really proud of the team. They exceeded my expectations, which is awesome. My success is a byproduct of their success, and I am thankful for that.”
Fedak said that during the first week the inspectors focused on DynCorp, the company responsible for maintaining 36 of the school’s 44 crewed aircraft, including F/A-18 Super Hornets, T-38C Talons, T-6B Texan IIs, U-6A Beavers, an NU-1B Otter, and two X-26A Frigate gliders, as well as OH-58 Kiowa and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The second week’s inspections covered StandardAero, which maintains the school’s five H-72 Lakota helicopters, and Precision Turbines, Inc., the contractor responsible for its sole ASTARS-III Flying Classroom aircraft.
“We saw significant improvement from last year,” Fedak said. “It speaks to the excellence and accountability of our maintainers and the work they’re recognized for over the past few years.”
Lt. Col. Rory Feely, commanding officer of USNTPS, concurred with Fedak’s assessment.
“One of the keys to a top performing organization is hiring good people and then getting out of their way so they can do their job,” Feely said. “USNTPS is full of top performers who are empowered to act in the best interest of the school. I am proud of the team’s achievements on this maintenance inspection – their superior performance makes our command both safer and readier.”
That sense of teamwork and pride is shared by nearly 200 contractor personnel who arrive at the school’s twin hangars before most students – the same personnel who leave well after the day’s final debriefing helping ensure that aircraft are always ready to meet the school’s demanding training tempo.
Eugene Czosek, StandardAero’s site manager at USNTPS, said the AMI process offers tangible benefits for command readiness. “When the AMI is done properly, maintainers get a lot out of it because the inspectors are veterans of aviation maintenance and bring a unique outside perspective to look at our operation and suggest improvements that we can make to our programs.”
“The AMI results also reflect the teamwork that goes on between the schoolhouse and its contractors,” Czosek said. “We get full support from the schoolhouse, and that helps a lot. We’re on a first-name basis with the instructors and the students, and our job makes the process as seamless as possible. They come down and ask for an aircraft, and we give them an aircraft to fly.”
Czosek explained that the collaborative spirit also extends to StandardAero’s program to upgrade the avionics in the school’s Lakotas. “It takes the prime contractor, Airbus, the mechanics here, the pilots, and the schoolhouse all working together to make something that is incredibly complicated go smoothly,” Czosek explained.
“The inspections went very well with no major hiccups,” said Ken Alm, DynCorp’s group manager at USNTPS. “The results show that we’re running a very safe program here, which gives pride and confidence to the schoolhouse and the pilots in the aircraft they’re flying.”
“The effort these guys put forth every day is great,” said Keith Humphreys, a DynCorp quality assurance manager. “The trust I have in them, and the loyalty and the professionalism they exude on a daily basis comes out in the results. It’s a recognition of all the hard work they do.”
Senior maintenance controller Roy Stolle said that he and his colleagues prepared long hours for the inspections to ensure that everything was in order. “A lot of people took it to heart and stayed on top of things for nearly two months ahead of time,” Stolle said. “Every day we were talking about subjects that we needed to pay attention to that day. It’s great that all the work that went on behind the scenes was reflected in the inspection results.”
Dave Wismer, the C-26 site manager at Precision Turbines, said he believes the AMI results reflect the culture of the USNTPS maintenance team, which operates as a single entity regardless of whose logo they wear. “If one of the other contractors needs a tool, we’ll lend it to them,” Wismer said. “You can just walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, can I look in your airplane?’ They’ll say, ‘Sure, take a look.’ There really is a vibe among people that makes it a thrill to work here. And that kind of attitude comes from the top down.”
Wismer said that professionalism is also reflected in the many ways the maintenance personnel take their jobs not just seriously, but personally. “If you’re a body on my airplane, I’m not doing my job any differently if you’re the godfather of my kids or if we’ve only just met,” Wismer said. “You’re still a person whose safety is entrusted to me in my equipment. I’ve gotten in the car and driven 20 minutes just to turn around and come back to the base because I thought I might have left the lights on in the airplane. We all feel that way here. Safety is our primary concern.”
Such attention to detail can be stressful, Wismer added. “We still pace when an airplane is late coming back,” he said. “We still watch the radar. We’re constantly questioning how we’ve done things.”
“Anything that wasn’t put to bed correctly or done correctly is a question mark,” Wismer said. “And we don’t like question marks.”
As the AMI results show, the collective efforts of the USNTPS maintenance team to clear up those question marks have paid off, and will continue to do so in the future.