Getting Critical Parts to Keep Thunderbolts Flying

RICHMOND, Va., July 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In his day, Benjamin Franklin understood "critical" supply parts and wrote about the missing horseshoe nail that kept the rider grounded. Exchange "wing fitting" for nail and the same situation occurs with the Air Force's A-10 Thunderbolt II, a versatile aircraft popular with pilots for its effectiveness.

Earlier this year, in response to a fast suspense request from the Air Force for critical A-10 wing fittings, personnel at the Defense Logistics Agency and its Defense Supply Center Richmond, Va., were able to help keep the planes operational.

The A-10's mission is to attack armored vehicles and tanks, as well as provide close air support of ground forces. The aircraft, nicknamed the "Warthog" for its profile, was first put in service by the Air Force in 1972 and is currently being used to support operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

Earlier this year, the Air Force identified the aircraft wing fitting of the A-10 as a critical part. The fitting, which holds the wings on, was in short supply.

"In early March, we got the request that these parts were needed by June," said Ann Poythress, airframes division 3 chief, aviation supplier operations, DSCR. "We discovered that we didn't have an awarded contract that could support that time frame."

This critical part is a forging, used wherever strong, durable parts are required.

"Forgings are made when metal is heated red hot and hammered in a giant steam hammer, taller than a two-story building," said Daniel Gearing, program manager at DLA's acquisition, technical and supply directorate. "This hammering makes the metal grain flow so it can carry the load without breaking. It's the same as a blacksmith making horseshoes, but on a giant scale, using special alloy steel."

The critical need set off a nationwide search for the steel needed to overhaul the aging aircraft.

"These planes are being flown so hard and so long that they are wearing out," Gearing said. "To keep them going, the Air Force has started overhaul lines at Ogden Air Logistics Center and several other locations."

DSCR plays a critical role in supporting these overhaul lines. "When we can't get parts, the line stops," Gearing said.

In order to manufacture the part, the forge company must first obtain the raw material for the item from the mill. "This unique material is known as maraging steel," said Dean Hutchins, DSCR casting and forging program manager in the Aviation Engineering Directorate.

Maraging steels are low carbon iron-nickel alloys used in components where ultra-high strength is required, along with good dimensional stability during heat treatment. According to Hutchins, mill runs of this type material are only melted by a few plants in the country and the material is relatively expensive and not usually stocked by material suppliers.

"This is why the current delivery time of over 30 weeks is required to obtain this specialty material," he said.

SIFCO Forge Group, the subvendor and the forging facility for the manufacturer ALKEM, was the critical forerunner who helped shorten the lead time. "Through all of our efforts, SIFCO was able to locate the raw material and have it shipped to them within six days," Poythress said. "It was originally a 38-week lead time to receive the raw material."

Once SIFCO received the raw materials, they also accelerated the forgings. Also, ALKEM located forgings that were already made. "This further expedited the process and all ALKEM now had to do was manufacture the part," Poythress said. ALKEM was able to ship four fittings in mid-June.

The coordination between DLA and its suppliers cut a year's time from what had originally been projected to obtain the fittings, according to Poythress, helping to ensure the A-10s don't get grounded for lack of a "nail."

DSCR is the aviation supply and demand chain manager for DLA. DSCR serves as the primary source of supply for nearly 1.2 million aviation repair parts and operating supply items supporting over 1,300 major weapons systems. In addition to the Richmond site, DSCR has facilities in Columbus, Ohio, and in Philadelphia and Mechanicsburg, Pa.

DLA provides supply support, and technical and logistics services to the U.S. military services and several federal civilian agencies. Headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va., the agency is the one source for nearly every consumable item, whether for combat readiness, emergency preparedness or day-to-day operations inside the Department of Defense. More information about DLA is available at

Editor's note: A high resolution photo is available here:

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