The MA-1 Reliability Task Force A brief history of an attempt to triple the Reliability of the MA-1/F106 Aircraft Roland A. Boucher, Task Force Leader
In 1958 and 1959 the Hughes MA-1 fire control system and associated electronic
units began to be installed in F106 aircraft in production quantities. It soon became apparent that the poor reliability of the Hughes MA-1 would severely impact on the effectiveness of the F106 in its primary mission to defend the CONUS against Russian bomber attack. in 1958 Winston Walker, a senior reliability analyst at Hughes proposed that a quick response Task Force be established to Remedy the situation. The goal of the Task Force was to
TRIPLE THE RELIABILITY OF THE HUGHES MA-1IN 90 DAYS.
The effort would be limited to the 26 Category II and Category III Aircraft
at Palmdale California. The Air Force agreed to the program. At this point Winston Walker quit the company and management Asked me to head up the Reliability Task Force. I protested that I had no experience in the field of reliability analysis or field service. They replied that no one else had that experience either and that I had the Job. At that time I was a 27 Year old Engineer.
I had supervised the development of a prototype MA1-40 fire control system which was installed in two prototype version of the F106 Dash 30. Myprevious experience had been with the power supply group responsible for the
design of the electrical power units used in the F102, and F106 aircraft.
His top problem in terms of frequency of repair was a small vacuum tube which was also used in Television sets. We went to the supply crib and I Instructed the supply Sergeant to take out a hammer and smash the suspected bad tube. There was nothing wrong with the tube, The maintenance technicians were stealing them for their TV sets. The same thing went on at the Hughes Aircraft factory in El Segundo California.
The tech Sergeant then showed us his top problem in terms of difficulty of repair. The problem was broken wires in the horizontal situation display which is mounted on the cockpit floor between the pilots legs. He said the wires broke and he thought the reason was that the wire harness had failed which let the wires vibrate until they failed in fatigue. This made sense but why were the harnesses failing ??? we asked to see a unit.
The outer casing was about 24 inches long and the electronic display had to be inserted from one end with very little clearance. This casing had a large number of external name plates, each attached with sheet metal screws which protruded into the area where the electronics had to be inserted. I asked for some black electrical tape and made a crisscross pattern of tape over each protruding screw and told the Sergeant to try this simple fix and report back if the reliability was improved. It was.
Now it was time to witness the maintenance procedure practiced in these two
squadrons. The Sergeant called for a pilot to start the engine on one of the planes. I asked why this was necessary. The squadron was equipped with ground power
carts which were designed to supply all electrical power to the aircraft while on the ground. He Responded “ When we plug in the Ground power cart to the airplane, THE AIRPLANE CATCHES FIRE!”. I was shocked !!
“HOW IN HELL DO YOU EXPECT TO MAINTAIN THE MA-1 WITH THE ENGINE RUNNING” I said. “
“You would have to be crazy to stand in front of the air intake of a 15,000 pound thrust jet engine” .I told the Sergeant.. “go in and tell the squadron commanders, the Convair rep, the Hughes rep, and the Pratt And Whitney rep to come out here, tell them I am going to show them how to maintain the MA-1/F106”.
When every one was assembled in front of the aircraft I said “ok Sergeant, plug in the ground power cart” The aircraft of course promptly caught on fire!! I turned to the assembled group and declared “ You have 48 hours to fix this problem or I am going to come back here and burn every aircraft to the ground!!”.
My assistant Jack Bales and I turned around, got in our plane and flew back to
Hughes in Culver City. When we got back I was called on the carpet and told that. Every one was calling and wanted me fired. I told management that this problem should never have been allowed to continue through the commissioning of 26 aircraft, that maintenance was impossible as things were, and that if they expected me to succeed , Hughes had to stand behind me.
Management agreed and 48 hours later we began our program. There were no more fires.
I split my team into two squads, reliability analysis was to list the top 50 failures. they were to rank them first by their effect on reliability, and second by their effect on the down time of the Aircraft. The second team consisted of electrical engineers who were to determine the changes to be made, and mechanical engineers who were to make the proper drawings and military parts selection.
I called the team members together and told them there would be NO overtime. This was a crash effort and I wanted everyone sharp and on their toes. Each electrical engineer would be assigned a problem unit at 8:00 AM. They would turn in their FINAL analysis at noon sharp. Mechanical would take over at 1:00 PM and have installation drawings ready by 5:00 PM. Installation of repair kits was to begin within 48 hours. At 1:00 PM each electrical engineer would get a new unit to analyze. They would examine two units per day. At this rate of 10 units per week, our five electrical engineers could examine 50 units per week.
We started to lose engineers in 24 hours. It did not take long to find out who who could not handle the pressure. Fortunately there was no shortages of recruits.
In one week we started to see improvement in the 26 aircraft. In two weeks I was able to lay off all the reliability group.
I had discovered that nearly all the failures were in units which were approved by one of three individuals. Jack Bales looked for the signatures while I assigned the units for review. This was a very important discovery since the personnel reporting to these individuals were very sloppy and made STUPID MISTAKES which were easy to spot, and easy to fix.
In two months we had nearly doubled the in-flight reliability of the MA-1/F106 weapon system. That is when I made my fatal error. I wrote an internal memo suggesting that these three individuals be fired. I suggested that this action might actually double the reliability of the whole Hughes Aircraft Company.
I must have hit a nerve because shortly the Task force was shut down and I was instructed to burn all records and scrap all improvement kits not already installed.
I complied, Almost, certain copy’s of the records were spirited off to members of
management I could trust, and all kits were stored in an undisclosed location,
to be use as required by trusted Hughes field engineers. We had repaired the
category II and category III aircraft but the hundreds of aircraft in production
Over the ensuing four or five years, as a large number of engineering change orders began to filter through the system, I was able to advise friends in the F106 program office which of these proposed changes had been flight tested in the first two squadrons at Palmdale.
The Moral to this story is :It does not take too many rotten eggs to spoil the barrel
and that management often does not have the guts to remove them.
This story is true to the best of my recollection now 43 years later. I still have a copy of the repair records to prove it. I also have records of a proposed improved electrical power supply system for the MA-1 /F106 which was developed for the dash 30 aircraft.
Roland A. Boucher September 6, 2002 Irvine California.
This report was sent to Wright Field in 2002 with the following Enclosures
1 Task Force report dated 16 July 1959 (There was no IDC # assigned)
2 Recommendations to replace F102 / MG-10 and F106 / MA-1 electric power
generators with Series Tube Regulators operated from the 3-phase 400 cycle,
115VAC, 30 KVA Alternator.
A MG-10 Recommendation….. IDC # 4114.2-84 dated 12, October 1956
B MA-1 Recommendation …( draft copy only ) dated 24, September 1956
C MA-1 400 CPS POWER SUPPLY (Presentation) dated April, 1959