It could be argued that true military aviation took off in 1903 when Dayton, Ohio, natives Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the first self-propelled airplane off a hill in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.
A lot has changed since the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Military aircraft can now soar high above the ground at supersonic speeds, fire rounds or drop payloads with pinpoint accuracy and conduct missions without a pilot in the seat. Planes like the F-16, the F-22 and the U-2 have become stars in the world of film and television — and on the walls of many a teenager.
At the same time, aircraft serving with less fanfare are just as critical to military missions. Supporting them is Defense Logistics Agency Aviation.
In the military aviation community, the phrase “You have to crawl before you can walk” takes on a whole different meaning. For the Air Force, the T-38 Talon helps pilots take those high-speed, aerial baby steps.
According to the Air Force website, the T-38 Talon is a twin-engine, high-altitude, supersonic jet trainer used in a variety of roles because of its design, economy of operation, ease of maintenance, high performance and exceptional safety record.
Northrop Grumman produced nearly 1,200 Talons from 1961 to 1972. About 530 remain in service.
Lee Grazetti helps keep them flying. He’s the T-38 weapon system program manager for DLA Aviation’s Air Force Customer Facing Division in the Customer Operations Directorate. He’s also the WSPM for the plane’s J-85 twin engines.
Grazetti said DLA manages more than 18,500 parts for the jet with DLA Aviation responsible for roughly 70 percent. DLA Troop Support in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and DLA Land and Maritime in Columbus, Ohio, manage the rest.
“One of the biggest challenges is keeping the supply chain for DLA parts flowing at a constant monthly rate to avoid depot work stoppages, which could possibly lead to the grounding of aircraft due to a lack of assets,” he said.
Grazetti said airframe parts such as wing tips, landing gear, struts and stabilizers are sole sourced and produced by small businesses, which can lead to challenges getting quotes and items on contract before a part runs out.
Maintaining the T-38 is personal to Grazetti; his son became a pilot this May.
“While he didn’t train in the T-38, many of those he knew did, and the aircraft got them through training safely,” he said.
According to the Northrop Grumman website, more than 72,000 Air Force pilots have trained in the T-38 Talon.
The U.S. Air Force Air Education and Training Command, headquartered at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, is the primary user of the T-38, preparing pilots for fighter and bomber aircraft such as the F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15C Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, B-1B Lancer, A-10 Thunderbolt and F-22 Raptor.
“Having my son now flying the aircraft I supported for so long is above any one dream a person can wish for,” Grazetti said.
Grazetti said the T-38 was one of the aircraft he supported during his 22-year Air Force career.
“Spending more than 30 years supporting the training mission for the Air Force and DLA has created a pride factor within me for our country and the Air Force,” he said.
Cue the C-130 Hercules, a plane the Air Force calls the workhorse of its combat airlift fleet. It can transport more than 40,000 pounds of cargo and supplies, from helicopters to armored vehicles to military personnel.
It’s a plane Mike Brown is very familiar with.
“I was a flight engineer and loadmaster for C-130s when serving with the military and as a Lockheed employee in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before joining DLA,” he said.
Brown’s been with DLA for 17 years. He’s now the C-130 weapon system program manager for DLA Aviation Customer Operations Directorate’s Air Force Customer Facing Division.
“The mighty Herc has been part of my life for over 30 years,” he said proudly.
Brown and the eight customer account specialists on his team manage logistics support for more than 1,200 C-130s operated by various branches of the military, as well as 19 foreign nations.
Lockheed, the maker of the C-130, has produced many variants of the plane over the past 60-plus years: ski-equipped Antarctic variants, Special Operations Forces aircraft with heavy weapons, stretch versions and medical versions. The latest variant is the C-130J Super Hercules.
Brown said the team manages 166,242 parts associated with the plane’s airframe, including skins, stringers, spars, panels, instruments, electronics and hardware. The team also manages close to 12,000 National Stock Numbers for the plane’s four engines.
He said obtaining parts for the legacy models is mostly competitive, while the new variant is largely sole source.
Brown said the many changes throughout the model series mean there are little-used parts that have been out of production for decades. Acquiring them is often difficult and expensive. Diminishing manufacturing resources and obsolescence of technical data create hurdles as well. But Brown and his team have found ways to overcome these obstacles. For example, he and his team are reverse engineering some obsolete structural-support items and electrical/electronic components.
“Specifications and standards that were written 50 years ago do not translate well to modern materiel and manufacturing methods,” Brown said.
He said with the help of Navy, Air Force and DLA engineers, the team has updated these to reflect current manufacturing capabilities.
“I get great satisfaction in supporting this platform and doing a small part in ensuring it is ready and able to support the warfighter’s mission every day,” Brown said.
Out of This World
As the Air Force’s largest and only strategic airlifter, the C-5 Galaxy can carry more cargo farther than any other aircraft.
With four engines, the cargo jet can carry up to 135 tons. It can fly close to 5,000 miles without in-flight refueling, with a load of 60 tons.
Lockheed delivered the first operational C-5A Galaxy to the Air Force in June 1970. There are now 52 C-5B/C/M models in the Air Force’s arsenal, based at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware; Travis Air Force Base, California; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts.
Jeff Goldston is the C-5 weapon system program manager for DLA Aviation’s Air Force Customer Facing Division, Customer Operations Directorate.
“Being the C-5 WSPM is like an extension of my service commitment to our nation’s warfighters,” he said.
Goldston spent a great deal of time around the C-5 during his 20-year career in the Air Force, including several deployments to Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and the United Kingdom before retiring in 2002.
He said his primary focus is the overall health of the weapon system. He uses automated tools, conducts detailed analyses and coordinates with his counterparts at DLA and the military services to ensure DLA parts and services are available when and where needed.
Goldston and three customer account specialists for the C-5 also maintain long-term contract coverage for the more than 74,000 parts DLA Aviation manages for the airframe and engines. These include floor panels, slat seals, skins, escape slides and fuselage-to-vertical-stabilizer fittings.
With the Air Force planning to fly the C-5 at least until 2040, Goldston said maintainers are seeing failures on some parts that have never broken before. And many of the original contractors that manufactured the aircraft parts in the 1970s are no longer in business.
With new contractors submitting quotes to make these parts, engineers require them to perform first-article testing before they can start contractual production. Goldston said this testing causes delays in production, extending administrative and production lead times to support customer requirements.
Despite the challenges of extending the service life of the C-5, Goldston said he’s dedicated to keeping it flying for decades to come.
“Each day I ask myself, ‘What can I do here in DLA Aviation to support our troops who put their lives on the line each day?”
It’s a question quietly answered every day through the commitment of people across DLA Aviation.