Restoring Military GSE To ‘Fully Mission Capable’ Condition

Howell Instruments had a month to set up job, hire experienced mechanics and begin work on some 100 pieces of veteran equipment from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since 1951, Howell Instruments, Ft. Worth, TX, has built a reputation largely in the OEM market developing products that have helped improve the safety and performance of aircraft.

The company’s current chief well remembers some words of advice that the company founder gave him after he joined Howell in 1998.

“He told me that I always needed to remember that Howell is an engineering firm with a manufacturing capability,” says Arthur “Shep” Brown, the company’s chief executive officer. “Our expertise has always been in engineering and designing and manufacturing whatever the customer needs.”

Over the years, the company has built cockpit instrumentation, jet engine trimmers, test sets and engine monitoring systems, and branched into MRO work for the aerospace industry from its 117,000 sq. ft. headquarters.

Considering the military background of the company’s founder, it’s not surprising that much of the work for the past 60 years has been focused on the needs of the military market. (For more, see our sidebar, “History Of Howell”). In addition, take a look at the bios for the company’s current roster of leaders at the Howell Web site, and it’s plain to see the strong military backgrounds each brings with them.

Brown, for example, was a veteran of aircraft maintenance and intercontinental missile operations with the U.S. Air Force.

While the company had done some refurbishment work on military GSE before, it recently took that business up a considerable degree with a contract awarded earlier this year to “reset” or refurbish some 100 pieces of GSE returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Originally, the company was tasked only to “facilitate” and outsource much of the reset work. But after quarterbacking some repair quotes and long lead times, company officials realized the work could be better done by bringing the reset operation in-house.



In short order, the company was charged with the following:

  • Evaluate and fully inspect 94 pieces of GSE.
  • Estimate costs for parts and labor.
  • Restore each item to “fully mission capable” condition.
  • Test all work.

And when we say “short order,” we mean get up and running in 30 days.

With military operations in Iraq officially over and winding down in Afghanistan, plenty of soldiers are returning home and so is all the assorted GSE.

Whether it’s a consequence of the Great Recession or sequestration, there has been a change in how the country’s Defense Department spends its funds.

“I think that some of the dollars available to buy new equipment just aren’t there anymore,” Brown explains. “Therefore, everyone has to try and reuse the existing equipment.”

The company had more than its military pedigree to back it up. As Brown has noted, the company possesses the full capabilities to make whatever is needed to reset GSE.

“Sometimes we’ll get involved in a component that we can’t replace and the simple fact is we have several engineers here and we have a machine shop with full CNC capability,” Brown adds. “If we can’t get the original part, we can reconstruct it and redesign it ourselves. There are not a lot of GSE repairs stations that have regular manufacturing capabilities like we do.”

From its headquarters, Howell is essentially a one-stop shop for MRO-modification, maintenance, inspection and repair of aircraft and GSE.

In addition, Brown also had a ready ally in colleague John W. Shipman, Howell’s vice president of operations.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Shipman joined Howell in 2002 as a programmer analyst and moved quickly through the ranks based on leadership, strategic planning and program management skills.

“John has the talent to take on an unknown situation and put some organization around it,” Brown says.



Once tasked with the job, Shipman set out to complete a gap analysis. In management parlance, gap analysis describes the difference between current capacity – “what is” and potential performance – “what needs to be.”

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