Staff Sergeant Quinn Smith, a 116th Air Control Wing aircraft structural maintenance section sheet metal technician, Georgia Air National Guard, explains the capabilities of the newly-created cowling fixture table at Robins Air Force Base. (Image courtesy: Technical Sergeant Nancy Goldberger/U.S. Air National Guard)

Maintainers design a $400 maintenance fixture to save the U.S. Air Force $500k per year

A new fixture table – made of materials on hand – is enabling E-8C JSTARS maintainers to make precision repairs on a limited supply of the aircraft’s mission-critical engine cowlings.

A team of airmen from Robins Air Force Base in Georgia have designed a cowling repair tool for the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft that could dramatically cut U.S. Air Force maintenance costs.

A cowling, or engine cover, is a critical airframe component that reduces drag and directing airflow into the engine. For the E-8C JSTARS, an aircraft with four massive Pratt and Whitney JT3D-based TF33-102C turbofan engines, each set of engine cowling components can cost up to $80,000 per set. Even a slightly warped cowling renders the entire housing unsafe and unserviceable.

“A bad cowling throws off the aerodynamics and could cause further damage,” says Master Sergeant Ryan Page, aircraft structural maintenance section supervisor of the 116th Air Control Wing.

Furthermore, supplying enough cowling components has been an issue plaguing the JSTARS program for years.

“The supply system could not meet the demand requirements for these cowlings,” says Colonel Robert Nash, commander of the Georgia Air National Guard, 116th Maintenance Group. “We needed a sufficient capacity to support the warfighter.”

Challenged by leadership to improve E-8C JSTARS maintenance, maintainers took up the slack to extend the life of the cowlings on hand. Eight airmen designed and developed a cowling fixture table for field-level repairs. The fixture – with includes a hydraulic press and measuring grid accurate to one-eighth of an inch – enables maintainers to fix bent corners of the engine cowling with precision.


Read the full article in the Advanced Manufacturing Knowledge Hub.


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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.

Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at

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