Assuring maintenance quality for the MQ-1, MQ-9 mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Christian Clausen
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Quality assurance (QA) Airmen in the maintenance world are known by many titles; the “best of the best”, the “eyes and ears”, and even “sharks in the water” for their "no-nonsense" attitudes where maintenance is concerned.

No matter what perspective they are seen from, the Airmen of the 432nd Maintenance Group QA shop are accountable for being knowledgeable and well-trained, enforcing the standards and inspecting all the work performed on the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper within the maintenance group.

“As QA we’re responsible for the quality of maintenance and the personnel as far as their knowledge of the tasks they’re performing, maintenance and inspections,” said Master Sgt. Patrick, 432nd MXG QA chief inspector. “We have 14 personnel and perform about 580 inspections a month.”

The QA shop should have approximately 20 personnel for the amount of work they perform for the Creech MQ-1 and MQ-9 fleet. The workload is significant especially when Airmen are deployed but more than that, everything that one maintainer repairs, upkeeps, or builds has to be examined.

“Everything is inspectable,” he said. “Processes, management programs, quality of maintenance, quality verification inspections and special inspections which are everything they do can all be inspected. We also ensure the crews have the proper tools and they’re maintained.”

Not only are the aircraft maintenance units inspected, QA evaluates other units who touch the aircraft as well. These units include munitions, aircraft structural maintenance, metals technology, non-destructive inspection, ground control stations,and support shops.

The attention to detail the QA Airmen must have is essential to completing the mission. Missing minor mistakes or maintenance errors can result in serious damage to aircraft and personnel.

“We produce a product, in this case, [aircraft] sorties, just like any other company produces a product,” Patrick said. “If we didn’t have anyone to ensure our product was of the highest quality, the potential would be that every once in a while we could put out a bad product.”

A “bad product” in terms of aircraft maintenance could mean anything from aircraft mishaps, which would be a danger to those near the aircraft, to aircraft damages at a potential loss of millions of dollars to the Air Force.

“Since we don’t belong to the units themselves, we can take an unbiased look at the maintenance being performed,” said Tech. Sgt. Bryan, 432nd MXG technical order distribution office. “There’s so much Airmen have to remember when it comes to aircraft maintenance as far as regulations, technical orders, and data.”

Airmen who performed the maintenance may think everything is correct, however QA is there to double-check and ensure sorties produced by Creech AFB are of the highest quality to meet the requirements of training and support the needs of the combatant commanders.

“Without us, I think there would be difficulties,” Bryan said. “People may think they could cut corners and not follow the technical data, and if steps get skipped it could be disastrous.”

Creech maintainers yield an average QA inspection success rate of 96 percent. This rate exceeds both Air Combat Commands standard rate of 80 percent and the 432nd Maintenance Group’s 85 percent standard.

To become a QA inspector, Airmen must meet specific requirements.

“A QA inspector should be the best of the best and the subject matter expert in their assigned Air Force Specialty Code,” Perry said. “They know everything and have experience on the aircraft. They also can’t have bad performance reports or physical training test failures. We only take the best of the best.”

There’s a good reason why inspectors have to be the "cream of the crop."

“When moving to QA, you have to take your work quality to inspect other people’s work and you take the unbiased look because now your boss is the maintenance group commander, and you also have to ensure the quality of all the maintenance on base,” Bryan said.

Even though inspecting all maintenance, as well as being responsible for knowing all technical orders and regulations can be difficult, it is still a great assignment.

“The best part of the job is knowing that you’ve been identified as the best of the best,” Perry said. “We’re the last defense between perfect maintenance and a mistake that could take a plane down.”

Bryan explained his favorite part of the job is finding things he can fix to make the "maintenance world" better, while also training Airmen on the correct way to complete a task.

“My QA shop is made up of some of the best individuals who perform essential responsibility within the maintenance group and make sure the maintenance is the best it can be,” Perry said. “As far as the Airmen go, I think these are some of the best Airmen in the Air Force not only in their performance, but the professionalism and dedication to the job they show.”