RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Even though the job is 1,400 miles away, Hill Air Force Base's expertise has allowed it to pick up maintenance work on the Air Force's premiere training jet.
Thanks to a recent Air Force policy change, a satellite unit from Hill is performing depot-level maintenance work on the T-38 Talon at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.
The T-38 is an American twin-engine supersonic trainer jet used mainly by the Air Force, but also by the Navy and NASA.
In the past, work on the T-38 has been done by contractors. But as part of the Air Force's 2009 Department of Defense Depot Source of Repair decision, officials determined the work could be done more efficiently by government workers.
Every workload that goes to one of the Air Force's Air Logistics Centers goes through a bidding process. The centers make bids based on how much money they can perform the work for and how much time it will take them.
In the end, Hill won the bidding process, and the work was awarded to a squadron under the base's 309th Maintenance Wing, the 571st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
But based on a number of factors, the Air Force also decided the work could be done more efficiently at the Texas base.
So the maintenance unit, referred to as the 571st AMS Operating Location-A, moved down south, bringing along director Jay Gregson and a handful of other Hill employees.
In order to set up shop in Texas, The 309th spent $7 million to renovate two hangars and one office building at Randolph.
"We actually set up the satellite unit on Oct. 1, 2010," Gregson said. "Then we received our first aircraft on March 1 of this year."
The group has 60 employees, Gregson said, including the Hill workers that moved, former contractors and employees that have already been working at Randolph.
Gregson said his team is currently inspecting the plane for structural safety, work that will require 22,000 total hours of work in fiscal year 2011.
But he said the workload is expected to grow exponentially in coming years.
By 2012, the group will perform modifications to brakes and a video data system in the plane, increasing the workload to about 60,000 hours per year.
By 2013, the group will begin major structural modifications that will extend the plane's service life to 2026.
When that work begins, Gregson figures, crews will be putting in 140,000 work hours on the plane per year.
"This type of thing has never really been done before, but we're glad to be doing it," he said.
"This is the plane that you would train with if you fly the F-15 or the F-16. Almost every fighter pilot you see today has done seat time in the T-38, so this is important work."
The T-38 completed its first flight more than 50 years ago on April 10, 1959. In five decades of service, more than 75,000 pilots have flown the T-38 to earn their wings.