Story by SSgt Melissa Sterling on 07/23/2019The 442d Maintenance Group quality assurance office hosted an aircraft weight and balance Technical Interchange Meeting for the A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-15 Eagle here July 15-19.
TIMs bring people from every aspect of the weight and balance process from the person who designed the aircraft to the person who weighs the aircraft to the same table.
"Every three years the aircraft is weighed," said Master Sgt. Richard O'Connor, a quality assurance inspector and weight and balance manager with the 442 MXG. "Every year there is a weight and balance conference. A-10s and F-15s have similar standards for weapons dropping and then flying."
Weight and balance technicians and managers monitor and set the standard for the aircraft's balanced condition.
"Aircraft have a pivot point, so when you put munitions on and drop them off it changes that balance point," O'Connor said. "We have to monitor that very closely."
During a deployment it is common for maintainers and pilots to use aircraft from a different unit, so it's important for Guard, Reserve and active-duty members to work together during these meetings. Members came from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Moody AFB, and Fort Wayne Air National Guard Base to name a few.
In addition, these meetings ensure each airframe is held to the same weight and balance standard and keep members up-to-date with the most efficient procedures and software.
Lockheed Martin designs the software for the computer system that the technicians use. The current application in use is the Automated Weight and Balance System 10.0. This meeting provided the software engineers who developed the newest 11.0 version an opportunity to showcase it to the users.
"The software has changed 180 degrees from where it was," said Thomas Rivers, a weight and balance technician stationed at Robins AFB. "The program does all the calculations for you and it goes directly to desktop computers from an iPad."
In the past, technicians took a piece of scratch paper to the aircraft to make their calculations and do their inventory. Then, they transcribed the information to their desktop computers back in their office.
"The scales are able to read into a laptop computer," said Rivers. "No transcription is needed. This new technology eliminates human error and saves time."
Rivers expressed his excitement to bring this technology to his shop. This streamlined process will allow him to deliver an aircraft back to the customer more expediently, he said.
"Technology changes so frequently, we can't just stay where we are at," said Herald Smoot, a weight and balance software projects manager with Lockheed Martin. "We have to keep up with operating system changes and new capabilities. This is about the third major rewrite I've seen with the program."
Smoot, an electrical engineer by trade, has worked in the weight and balance industry for 25 years. Over the years, he said he has seen many advancements since the AWBS system for the A-10 launched in 2000.
He added that upgrading the software the technicians use and training technicians about weight and balance have been two major focuses over the years. Due to the nature of the military and people moving positions so frequently, he sees a lot of new faces at these meetings.
"I asked who was in the meeting for the first time, 90% raised their hand which is typical," said Smoot. "There is a lot of turnover and not many people understand weight and balance."
He said the TIM allows industry experts to collaborate, exchange ideas, and also certify new weight and balance technicians.
"Everyone learns from each other," said Smoot. "Even this week we've picked up pieces of information to improve the process."
Every year the TIM is held in a different location. This year was one of the biggest A-10 and F-15 meeting that Smoot has seen in years.
"I just want to recognize O'Connor for stepping up to host this year," said Smoot. "It's a bit of work to host one of these. It's nice that someone with his background and experience was willing to give the extra effort to host."
Next year, the meeting is slated to be held at Robins AFB in June.