Science and Technology News

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Aircraft Metals Technology: Putting square pegs in round holes while making sparks fly

by Karen Abeyasekere
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

2/26/2014 - RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The refueling mission of the 100th Air Refueling Wing is absolutely vital to aircraft of other nations around the world, who rely on it to carry out their own missions.

However, there's no getting away from the fact that the KC-135 Stratotankers are a little older than many other aircraft and, because of that, are more susceptible to having parts crack or break occasionally.

Thankfully, there are several workcenters on RAF Mildenhall involved in the process of repairing the cracks and replacing vital parts which, in turn, keep the aircraft flying and ensuring the mission doesn't stop.

One of those key shops is 100th Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Metals Technology.

"We support all aircraft operations by repairing broken airframe components," said Master Sgt. Robert Madsen, 100th MXS Aircraft Metals Technology section chief from Norwalk, Calif. "We can also manufacture aircraft parts per engineering drawings; pretty much anything that's machined or is a non-procurable component, we can make."

The Airmen provide non-scheduled maintenance on an as-needed basis, around the clock.

"There's very little we do as a routine, aside from welding aircraft support equipment," said Tech. Sgt. Israel Caballero, 100th MXS Aircraft Metals Technician craftsman from Palmdale, Calif. "We deal with high-accuracy machine parts. In order to have many components of an aircraft working together, they have to fit correctly. We provide that level of accuracy."

The technicians use specialist equipment which enables them to weld with the precision of a surgeon.

"We use state-of-the-art machines to fabricate high-tolerance aircraft components," said Staff Sgt. Keith Holland, 100th MXS Aircraft Metals Technology journeyman from Altona, Ill. "Basically, if we can't do it then it probably can't be done. We're a last line in the repair process before the Air Force needs to order parts from supply."

Jobs range from a small welding task to making large items such as a bulkhead gusset the Airmen recently made for an MC-130H, which basically ties the entire tail end of the aircraft together.

"The bulkhead is a critical component in linking the tail sections together," Caballero said. "The original component was cracked and there was zero stock in supply for that unit; the contract to manufacture that part had lapsed and it was no longer procurable. We coordinated with engineering staff to manufacture the item and used a computer-numeric-controlled mill to build the item from scratch."

The AMT technicians used a computer software-drafted program and manufactured the part, cutting a 3-D shape from an approximately 12 inch by 18 inch section of metal. Once AMT has made the part, Airmen from the 100th MXS Aircraft Structural Maintenance section then install the critical component on the aircraft.

Training for AMT technicians is approximately six months long at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and consists of learning basic machining, welding and metal cutting, in addition to taking a mathematics course.

"To be proficient in most of the equipment, it takes close to two years," Caballero said. "But we always have continuous on-the-job training."

Because of that training, the Airmen are skilled and knowledgeable in their trade, and when an aircraft part needs fixing or replacing - whether welding is required or a round "peg" needs to be created from a square block of metal - they will keep the aircraft flying, ensuring the Team Mildenhall mission doesn't stop.

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