By David Bedard
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska, Oct. 17, 2011 – While performing a routine test procedure, a 90th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons expediter's heart sunk when he heard a sound no maintainer ever wants to hear: “Crunch.”
The airman had accidentally damaged an F-22 Raptor configurable rail launcher that mounts the fighter's AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. He reported the incident to Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Lopez, the senior 90th AMU weapons expediter. Upon closer inspection, Lopez verified the airman had followed the technical order data to the letter.
The process Lopez then initiated would quickly earn him $10,000 through the Innovative Development through Employee Awareness, or IDEA, program.
Lopez said he determined the order of steps outlined in the technical order data exposed the launcher detent assembly, which is responsible for weapons release, to damage during testing procedures. The quarterly check ensured the rail would successfully function when the pilot needed it in combat.
Lopez said he spoke to another technical sergeant who recently relocated from another F-22 base to see if the issue was widespread. It was. Though Lopez said he could have told his airmen to perform a workaround, which contravened the established order, he instead decided to follow the official technical order data change request procedure to ensure weapons expediters here and at other installations were within published guidance.
"[Weapons expediters] knew it wasn't right, and the way they would train the guys was a workaround, and I submitted the change request because workarounds are not how we operate," Lopez explained. "We have to follow our tech order line by line."
Lopez said the technical order data steps were accurate, but were out of order. In his request, he suggested the steps be reordered to ensure the $13,980 detent assemblies wouldn't be damaged during testing. The maintainer said order data changes can be quite common, especially for relatively new equipment such as the F-22.
"It's still a new jet, even though it's been here for four years," he said. "There are still things that can be improved."
After an hour's work, Lopez said, he submitted the change request through the proper channels, and the change was promptly evaluated and approved by officials at Headquarters Ogden Air Logistics Center at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
Lopez then initiated the IDEA process with help from Lisandra Ortiz, the 673rd Air Base Wing IDEA coordinator.
"An IDEA is the submitter's own thought or a new application of an old principle," Ortiz said. "Good ideas are those that are submitted in writing and include the current method, procedure, task, directive or policy affected. The IDEA also includes the proposed method, change or idea, and why the change would be beneficial to the Air Force and [Defense Department]."
Ortiz said an IDEA must be submitted using the IDEA Web link at https://ipds.randolph.af.mil, where a submitter creates a user profile. If the IDEA requires a separate improvement process, such as a technical order data change request, as in Lopez' case, the approved forms must be submitted as confirmatory or after-the-fact separate improvement process IDEAs.
Less than six months after submitting his initial paperwork, Lopez was presented with a $10,000 check.
"All these guys out there, when they submit a [technical order data change request], they can get paid for it," Lopez said. "As long as they include what it's going to save the Air Force."
The airman said his initial reasoning for submitting the change request was twofold.
"The most important consideration was maintaining the aircraft -- making sure the reliability and safety is there when the pilot needs it," Lopez said. "No. 2 is saving the Air Force money. It's something so simple in the long run that can cost the Air Force a lot of money."
Though he has been working with fighters for years, Lopez said, he encourages an innovative mindset for younger airmen when they encounter a problem or an area that can benefit by greater efficiency.
"We live and die by our tech data," he said. "However, we have to have our guys thinking outside the box -- ways to improve stuff. They have to think for themselves and not get in the mindset of being a robot, because we don't want that."