PMEL: No margin of error

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
  • 436th AW Public Affairs
Image winning an all-expense-paid vacation of your dreams! You eagerly wait for the tickets to arrive and then you scurry off to the airport to catch the flight. A few hours into the flight, something goes terribly wrong. On approach to your destination, the belly of the craft braises the top of a mountain and the plane goes down. Fortunately, all passengers survive, but question lingers ... what went wrong?

Like the civilian aviation industry, in the Air Force there are a multitude of different factors that can cause accidents. However, the men and women of Air Force precision measurement equipment laboratories do their utmost to ensure Air Force Test, Measurement and Diagnostic Equipment, like airspeed and altitude test sets, will not be the culprit in an Air Force accident.

The mission:

"It is the mission of the Dover PMEL to provide our customers with reliable, repeatable, safe and accurate test equipment that meets or exceeds expectations for mission support," said Joseph Patrick, Dover Air Force Base's PMEL site manager. "Air Force TMDE used to make quantitative measurements is precisely calibrated to strict tolerances. This will ensure weapons systems are exact (and) medical equipment remains safe. All measurements made and parameters certified at the Dover PMEL require proper trail of documented events through the 562nd Combat Sustainment Group at Newark Ohio to the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gathersburg, Md."
This term described above is known as 'traceability.'

"Traceability ensures that measurements made at any Air Force PMEL can be duplicated at any other PMEL throughout the world," said Col. Robert Gaudette, 562nd Combat Sustainment Group director. "This ensures that all weapons systems perform accurately; ultimately resulting in 'bombs on target' and safety of Air Force personnel."

From the defibrillator doctors use to bring fading patients back to life, to the aircraft and missile test sets maintainers use to keep jets in the skies and bombs and missiles on target, PMEL professionals are responsible for ensuring every piece of equipment used to establish a reference or make a measurement is in its prime operating condition.

"There are approximately (800) active duty PMEL technicians in the Air Force," said Colonel Gaudette. "Due to the sensitivity of their job, the technicians receive extensive training. At a minimum, all technicians attend a 33-day electronic principles course and 87-day basic metrology course. There are also three supplemental courses that range from 20-42 academic days each."

Validating the mission:

Like PMEL ensures Air Force TMDE operates correctly, the 562nd CBSG ensures base PMELs operate within standards.

There are three stages in the PMEL certification process, said Jon Morrison, 562nd CBSG deputy director. The first stage is the pre-assessment.

"The pre-assessment (stage) includes a review of PMEL documentation to assess compliance with technical order 00-20-14 and other Air Force directives," he said.

The next step is the on-site assessment, which, as a minimum, validates seven different criteria.

The quality-managemement system, measurement capability assessment, facility and compliance with environmental requirements are some of the criteria graded.

After the on-site assessment is completed, a certification review will commence.

"During this period, all PMELs shall be in a status of 'certification pending' until the 562nd Combat Sustainment Group commander renders a certification decision that is published in the final evaluation report," said Mr. Morrison. "During certification review, the certification office validates assessment findings and reviews short-term PMEL corrective actions. On completion of the certification review, the certification office forwards a recommendation to the commander to certify, withhold, keep the PMEL in pending status or close the PMEL."

Monday, the audit of Dover's PMEL concluded, certifying them to continue precise calibrations for another two years.

Livin' the dream:

Closing a PMEL could be drastic to a base's mission, said Master Sgt. Michael Sumich, 562nd CBSG evaluator. For that reason, PMEL evaluators must have perfect attention to detail. Sergeant Sumich has been an evaluator for three years and said it's the highlight of his career.

"I wanted the opportunity to work in a job where I would be constantly learning and master sergeants on the evaluation team have responsibilities that impact our entire career field," he said. "I've had the opportunity to work with some incredible people. Simply put, I am livin' the dream."