Aviation Machinist’s Mates (AD) are one of the primary sources for new Aviation Maintenance Technician. By the time they reach the rate of Senior Chief Petty Officer, they will have completed all three types of “strand” training—Helo, Turboprop, and Turbojet—and moved away from hands-on maintenance and repair to more of a managerial role. One of the most challenging and mission-critical tasks they face is the management of aircraft component cannibalization.

Component cannibalization—removing a part from one aircraft for use on another—is allowed by the Navy, but only under certain conditions: the part is critical, is unavailable, and is needed to carry out an essential mission. Determining if those criteria have been met is the job of Senior Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mates—but this job is made even more trying because of factors beyond their control.

A good example of this can be found in a 2001 General Accounting Office report on the cannibalization of parts for the EA-6B Prowler and the F-14 Tomcat. In the case of the EA-6B, a change to inspection requirements meant that the time between replacing the landing gear increased by 300 percent, from once every three months to eight times every six months.

Another issue is the number of manufacturers producing components for “legacy” aircraft. As the number of a particular type of aircraft still in service declines over the years, fewer manufacturers are willing to devote valuable production time to create parts with such low demand. Consider the MH-53 Sea Dragon: there are only 28 left in service, and the resulting scarcity of new parts makes it very tempting for lower-ranked ADs to cannibalize parts in order to pass inspection, rather than employing the technique only for emergency situations.

Proper record-keeping and management by Senior Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mates not only ensures that all aircraft meet all operational and safety requirements, but also gives those responsible for the acquisition and resupply of aircraft components an accurate picture of the true needs of the Navy’s aviation assets.

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