Forged in fire - wing schedulers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Joint and allied forces in Southwest Asia rest easier knowing a B-1 bomber aircrew is providing around-the-clock support for them, poised to answer any calls for support.

To hone their skills and ensure they are ready to respond, aircrews conduct numerous training sorties - in the cockpit and during flight simulator training.

None of this critical training would be possible if not for the base's team of dedicated schedulers from the 28th Operations Group and the 28th Maintenance Group.

In order to satisfy mission requirements and support community relations opportunities - without unnecessarily placing taxing demands on those tied to the aircraft - representatives from both groups work together to create a cohesive wing flying schedule every month.

Maj. Nathan Loucks, 28th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing scheduling, said he acts as a liaison between Air Combat Command and the 28th Bomb Wing.

"ACC allocates a certain number of hours to each wing, and then the individual squadrons decide how to use them while optimizing their training," Loucks said.

It may sound simple, but there are many pieces of the scheduling puzzle that must be included to complete the schedule every month. Add to that the recent cutbacks due to sequestration, and trying to keep aircrews combat mission ready with a limited number of flying hours has become an even more daunting task.

Maj. Monika Johncour, 28th OG executive officer, who previously served as the 28th OSS chief of wing scheduling, can attest to that.

"I worked with both maintenance and operations squadrons to create a plan for the year to execute the number of hours allocated by ACC for our FHP (flying hour program)," Johncour explained. "We ran the meeting directed by ACC Instruction 21-165 (Aircraft Flying and Maintenance Scheduling Procedures) once a week to discuss the progress of the FHP and any maintenance or operations issues that had to be coordinated, and then we had the weekly schedule approved."

Staff Sgt. John Quenga, 28th Maintenance Operations Squadron scheduling element NCO in charge, said several factors have to be taken into consideration. Although the base strives to achieve the number of hours given by ACC, adjustments must often be made.

"We look at our capabilities - both operations and maintenance - and see if we can meet those hours or sorties," Quenga said. "If we can't, we send them the hours and sorties we could support with an explanation. We come up with those numbers based off of different things, like manning and major inspections."

Senior Airman Gregory Roberts, 28th MOS aircraft maintenance unit scheduler, has firsthand knowledge of the way wing schedules are developed. He said once a rough overview for the entire year has been established, it must then be refined to months and, finally, down to weeks.

"The OG needs to fly their jets, and the only way they can do that is if the aircraft are properly maintained," Roberts explained. "We need to meet so I can coordinate with them and give them what they need."

Quenga stressed the importance of the scheduling program, saying, "planning ahead of time helps to identify any shortfalls and correct them."

The number of flying hours is now a staggering one-third of its normal amount, but all hope is not lost. Ellsworth is fortunate to have two B-1 weapons system trainer simulators to balance out the decrease in flying opportunities.

"The ability to train in actual aircraft has been directly impacted," said Quinten Miklos, 28th OSS B-1 simulator program manager. "The simulators are really now the only avenue for most aviators to train to remain current and proficient in the jet."

Miklos helps maintain concurrency in the simulator database to ensure it looks, sounds and feels like the real thing. The similarities stop there. Miklos said an hour spent in a simulator costs a mere fraction of what an hour flying in an actual B-1 does.

"As the overall level of resources draws down, and we have fewer avenues for training, we have to find efficient ways to use the training tools we do have," Miklos said.

Roberts said he enjoys participating in the weekly briefings with squadron and wing leadership, adding having a position in scheduling can be an interesting career.

"I like it because it's fast-paced and it changes a lot," Roberts noted.

Loucks added that in the current fiscal climate, schedulers must be more careful now than ever before in the way they use the flying hours given them, but that Ellsworth is up to the task.

"We have to account for every fraction of an hour," Loucks said. "In order to make sure our aircrews are trained, we have to use every resource ACC has given us. We need to be wise stewards of our flying hours."

Johncour added a healthy relationship between both sides of the scheduling process, coupled with continued training, is paramount to the success of Ellsworth's FHP.

"The mission of the 28th Bomb Wing is to put bombs on target," Johncour emphasized. "In order to do this, we need to practice and ensure that both operations and maintenance are ready when called upon to employ the B-1."