Fruits of initiative

submitted by: Col. Alva Matheson

Initiative 4 January 2023

A Young Major in the USAF observed a deficiency in military planning and logistic operations relating to airlift support of NATO. He took the initiative to address the inability of the military to refuel Civilian Air Reserve Fleet (CRAF) to refuel at military facilities, then took the initiative to design, engineer, and deliver the first Mobile Hydrant Refueling (MHR) lift trucks so indispensable at major airports today.

Having completed an assignment with the Air Force Institute of Technology, I received an appointment as a Production Officer and a warrant as a Procurement Contracting Officer (PCO) before returning to flight duty in the C-5A at Dover Air Force Base. One of our primary airlift missions was called “REFORGER” -- an exercise to simulate the opening of a war-front in Europe, in case of a “two-ocean” conflict. I observed that the C-5A that I was flying could only carry 77 passengers, but it was capable of carrying 335,000 pounds of cargo…, while the airliners of the day (i.e. the Boeing 747 and Lockheed 1011 aircraft, etc., could fly hundreds of people but without a insignificant cargo contribution.
As an additional duty assignment I elected to serve the contracting division at Dover Air Force Base under Col. Gerry Giles, to keep my hand in the contracting arena and to encourage my opportunities to for a more competitive Officer Effectiveness Report. I was fortunate enough to be championed by an officer with whom I could share operational activities and we could make candid/cogent observations of our military mission in relation to logistic activities. Unbeknownst to me, Col Giles also served on the Command staff of the 60th Military Airlift Wing (MAW).
On one occasion, Col Giles voiced the observations and challenges we had spoken of, and the conversation revolved around solutions we had considered as well. My mentor stated, “Major Matheson has never brought me a problem without a solution. I think he can fix this.” The commander turned to him and said, “Then tell him to fix it!” I was later called into conference and invited to address the problems that I saw from an air crew point of view, and separately as a production/logistics officer. My statement to the assembled working group was simply, “CRAF will not fly!” With both surprise and indignation, they addressed me as if I was a bug on the wall and said, “Show us.”
I was called to describe the fact that Civilian Reserve Airlift Fleet (CRAF) airliners were being reconfigured with a cargo option, and at significant Government expense too, to supplement Military Airlift Command tonnage and passenger limitations. It was with good intent but unrealistic because the military had not provided a way to refuel multiple airframes some with refueling ports approaching 18 ft above the ground. Military refueling ports were, by design, all configured at eye level. CRAF was not unrealistic because the idea was flawed, but no one had taken account of the functional problems of mixing civilian aircraft with military aircraft--on either a civilian or a military base. I explained to them that the elephant I saw standing in the room was the fact that all military refueling ports were at eye level on all military aircraft including the C-5A. In contrast no civilian aircraft could be reached without a two-story ladder and a challenging fuel line. Add to that the fact that manual fuel lines were totally inadequate to deliver the hundreds of thousands of pounds of fuel that would be required?
There was consternation. There was silence. Everyone understood the problem that had been presented. No one had a solution. The Wing Commander turned and said, “Colonel Giles (my commander) tells me you don’t present problems without solutions. How would you fix this?” My response was, “Give me the authority to design and produce a mobile fuel hydrant that will service both military and civilian airplanes, any place, and any time as circumstances require.” The next question was, “What would it take for you to do that?” My response was, “Give me $50,000 purchase warrant, as a production officer and contracting authority, and I will have you a solution within 60-90 days.” His statement was “Prove it. Here’s your money.” A Purchase Request was delivered to Col Giles shortly thereafter. It came with a leave of absence from routine flying duty, if required, and aWarrant to contract in the name of the Air Force.

Within days I had a Request For Quotation RFQ and a formal Solicitation on the streets as required by law, and during that same period of time I had drawn up the specifications for an off-the-shelf 3500 hundred series flatbed truck to be reconfigured with adequate filters, valves, stanchions, and hoses--and most importantly, a hydraulic man-cage with fittings to carry the fuel connectors (moose heads) while attached to the cage.
I shared my preliminary design with headquarters Military Airlift Command (MAC) and received with an immediate authority to proceed. Upon receipt of that verbal authority, I contacted KOVATCH Corporation in Nesquihonig, Pennsylvania. A source I knew to be a primary logistics supplier for fueling equipment to the Department of Defense. After a short conversation with their design engineer, they assured me that I would receive a preliminary proposal that would be responsive to the formal solicitation and RFP that had previously been issued. Accordingly, on the day that the RFP closed, I had a KOVATCH proposal and several nonresponsive proposals from competing suppliers in my hand. None of them were able to meet our operational requirements without a long study and an inordinate delay in the process.
I drove to Kovatch Corp. and sat down with their engineering staff to lay out my requirements, then issued an advance authorization to immediately procure 3500 hundred series Chevrolet trucks. I also issued a Notice-To-Proceed to give me a production schedule based on assembly from their inventory, and their expertise the necessary hardware to be mounted on the bare chassis of each truck. I then filed routine periodic progress reports with Headquarters MAC while resolving any design constraints by taking the initiative to design fixtures and assemble components to reduce overall costs and make production schedules viable. Eventually I reordered a first article sample of the first assembled and tested unit to be delivered to Dover Air Force Base where independently Air Force fueling crews took responsibility for the vehicles and proceeded to test both concept and assembly, and report their findings independently to Headquarters MAC.

I then received a “punch list” of discrepancies, issues, problems, functional issues, safety factors, and comments for improvement, modifications, or changes. Upon receipt, I hand carried those directly to KOVACH, to whom I had since awarded the contract and change order as contracting officer. Now I assumed the role of contract administrator and oversaw the correction of all discrepancies and changes and authorized the production release for the remaining vehicles and restoration of the first article truck or what had now become a Mobile Hydrant Refueler (MHR).

Delivery was scheduled and on the appointed day I had the distinct pleasure of escorting the convoy of all 10 MHR vehicles onto the ramp at Dover AFB under the watchful eyes of both my supervisor Colonel Gerry Giles and Wing Commander. We also watched as some of the vehicles were loaded onto the first available aircraft to make their journey to Frankfurt, Germany and Agana As a result of being observant and having taken the initiative, I was able to see my vision of a solution come to fruition. And as a result of that initiative I was surprised that in the company of my peers I received a below-zone promotion to the grade of Lieutenant Colonel.

Since that time, it is common every airfield-- commercial or military-- to see an MHR vehicle in service to this day. The Mobile Hydrant concept has become ubiquitous at every military or commercial airport, most evident by the hydraulic lift cage to service all types of aircraft.

Col. Alva Matheson USAF (R)
Military Relations Representative
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Keesler AFB 4 January 2023