BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When Air Force leaders announced the KC-46A aerial refueler was in the works, Senior Master Sgt. Constantine Karamargin wanted to get involved in the development process.
But first he had to find a way into the program.
With over 20 years as a crew chief on the KC-10 Extender and as a long-time Federal Aviation Administration maintenance inspector, the Air Force Reservist had plenty of bona fides to support the new airframe. As luck would have it, he ran into a fellow FAA employee who was an Individual Mobilization Augmentee within the KC-46 program office. She helped him get his foot in the door.
In 2011, Christine Sinagra told him there were no openings, but recommended he support the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node E-11A program, which was looking for assistance implementing a maintenance program that would line up with FAA requirements. He sent in his resume and, in addition to his Reserve duties at the 714th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Wing, Joint Base McGuire, New Jersey, was soon helping the Air Force in the process of buying their first E-11A.
“When [Sinagara] retired, I then came onboard with the KC-46 program and still supported BACN,” said Karamargin, who pulled back his chief application package at the 514th Air Mobility Wing in 2014 in order to accept the IMA position, should he be selected.
IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to active component organizations and government agencies. In addition to their Air Force specialties, these Airmen often bring a wealth of civilian experiences their organizations would not normally have access to. In this case, Karamargin’s expertise as an FAA airworthiness inspector.
Dr. Robert Marx, the KC-46 Liaison to the FAA Military Certification Office, said that experience would pay dividends for KC-46 program. That’s because the new aerial refueler is a commercial derivative aircraft -- it’s a modified Boeing 767 -- and will be the first Air Force airframe to retain its type design.
Type design is an FAA certification of all the drawings, specifications, material and dimension information, airworthiness data, and preventative maintenance specs for a particular platform.
“[Karamargin’s experience] has been critical, since the KC-46 will be the first commercial derivative aircraft platform ever supported organically by the Air Force while still maintaining its FAA type design approval,” said Marx.
The Air Force’s fleet of 59 KC-10s are also CDAs. However, due to proprietary changes to the platforms and the lack of an FAA-certified maintenance program, any repairs above part swaps must go to a certified contractor, said Karamargin. This is costly and can results in supply chain delays.
Maintaining type design and implementing a maintenance program that meets the intent of FAA regulations will result in lower maintenance costs and a more robust parts supply chain, since the KC-46 will be able to use the same parts as a commercial Boeing 767. Before they can do this, however, the Air Force must get a letter from the FAA stating that the program meets the intent of the applicable regulations.
Enter Karamargin. As an FAA inspector, he performs flight standards and air worthiness inspections, reviewing everything from experimental aircraft regulations to certifying maintenance and repair stations for airlines and other operators. He is intimately familiar with all the requirements needed to maintain type design on an aircraft, he said. This in addition to his familiarity with the KC-10 program.
Marx said the crew chief has helped the planners marry the requirements of the Air Force with the standards set forth by the FAA.
“He constantly relies on his vast experience as a crew chief and an FAA inspector to make sure the KC-46 maintenance program is the best it can be,” said Marx. “He has also been instrumental in navigating the path to achieve FAA approval of the KC-46 maintenance program.”
Karamargin’s guidance and expertise has also enabled the KC-46 program to gain efficiencies up front that will save the Air Force millions of dollars over the life of the aircraft and has paved the way for maintaining type design on all future CDA aircraft the Air Force pursues, such as Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), the presidential support aircraft. It can even be used retroactively on current platforms, said Marx.
The Reservist said his job with the FAA is very demanding but the IMA program has allowed him the flexibility needed to balance his time. In addition to collaborating with Marx to create a custom duty schedule, he has also been able to work remotely at times, rather than traveling to the program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, every time his input is needed.
The annual requirement for IMA positions is about 30 days per year, depending on the Air Force Specialty Code. Additionally, IMAs often volunteer to serve on additional MPA and RPA tours with their unit and other organizations, supporting manning shortfalls, exercises and special projects.
“Reservists bring the warfighter into the program office,” said Marx. “This is especially true when we are buying a commercial derivative aircraft, since many Reservists also work in the commercial aviation industry as mechanics, pilots and inspectors.”
His efforts in the airworthiness arena also resulted in him teaching a class at the AF Test Pilot School on how to certify the airworthiness of commercial aircraft owned and operated by contractors, said Marx.
“As far as I know he is the only enlisted person to lecture at the test pilot school,” said Marx. “He has been requested by several other test agencies as well.”
As someone who has always been the end user of the aerial refueling program, Karamargin said being involved in the acquisition process for the KC-46A has been enlightening experience, and a humbling one.
“You think you know a lot, then you come into a new program,” he said. “[The acquisition process] is all new to me and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”