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The Air Force’s Crystal Ball: The 166th Airlift Wing tests CBM+ to prognosticate aircraft maintenance needs

A C130H2 receiving maintenance is viewed through a photographic lens ball at New Castle Air National Guard Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2019. The 166th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is testing the Conditions Based Maintenance program, which uses predictive analytics to proactively schedule aircraft maintenance. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

A C130H2 receiving maintenance is viewed through a photographic lens ball at New Castle Air National Guard Base, Del., Oct. 29, 2019. The 166th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is testing the Conditions Based Maintenance program, which uses predictive analytics to proactively schedule aircraft maintenance. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Mr. Mitch Topal)

NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Del. --

(Editor’s note: This is part two in a series, The Wing Beneath Our Wing, stories of our 166th Maintenance Group Airmen). 

Proven effective by Delta Airlines and the commercial airline industry, Conditions-Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+) uses predictive analytics to portend part failures and maintenance issues before they arise – sometimes before the end of a part’s expected lifespan. The intent is to shift equipment maintenance from an ad hoc, reactive approach at the time of failure to a more routine and predictive approach, whereby maintenance can be schedule at a time more convenient – and less disruptive – to the mission.

The USAF has effected numerous pilot programs, and is now introducing CBM+ to the Air National Guard, including the 166th Airlift Wing.

“We’re starting CBM+ on a limited number of parts and systems,” said Chief Master Sgt. James Gilbert, Superintendent of the 166th Maintenance Operations Flight. “One is avionics and the other is the engine shop.”

“We’re a few years away from full implementation,’ said Tech Sgt. Briana Walker. “Due to the fact that our C-130H2s are older aircraft, the data has to be collected and input manually.” Walker attended the CBM+ course in mid-August, 2019.

As more data is collected – including part names and serial numbers as well as predicted versus actual lifespan – wing maintainers can start performing a reliability analysis. Looking at whether parts are being replaced as a result of a failure or CBM+ will enable the wing to affect changes to the Time Change Item (TCI) schedule and the supply chain. The Air Force will also adjust budgets and procurements as the data analysis dictates.

CBM+ data-driven decisions are the future of USAF aircraft maintenance, supporting the mission by allowing more mission-ready aircraft to be available for training, to continue the war on terrorism and to be ready when called upon.