Logistics: Sortie Generation Evolves


October 18, 2007: The U.S. Air Force is hailing a new record for fueling aircraft. Airman 1st Class Hazen Sanders, managed to pump 3,123,985 gallons (over 11,000 tons) of fuel into aircraft over a 29 day period. He did this by working 12 and 16 hour shifts at Ramstein, Germany, one of the busiest air force facilities on the planet. The air force is big on what it calls "generating sorties" (actually getting fueled and armed aircraft into the air and on their way to the target. One aircraft taking off on a mission is a sortie.) In order to keep this process going, you have to have the fuel and weapons in position, as well as maintenance crews, their equipment and spare parts, ready to service the aircraft.

Only about two percent of air force personnel are pilots, but over 30 percent are involved in servicing those aircraft. If the "maintainers" and other support troops (like the refuelers) are not at the top of their game, those aircraft aren't getting off the ground as quickly as possible, and the battle can be lost. So the air force keeps track of personal and team records, and even has competitions for many job categories. That's good for morale, and also gives the support troops a tangible sense of accomplishment and excellence. Otherwise, the maintenance tasks can be just tedious and boring, which leads to poor performance and expensive errors. During the Cold War, generating the maximum number of sorties per aircraft per day was the main goal. But with the introduction of smart bombs and more complex electronics in the last decade, you don't need as many sorties. But you do need to make sure more complex systems are good to go before a warplane takes off. Thus, the job of the ground crews evolves, but doesn't really change.


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