Fairchild's Fabrication Flight 'key' to Stratotanker's success

  • Published
  • By Scott King
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force purchased its first KC-135 Stratotankers in 1954, that means Fairchild's fleet of roughly 37 aircraft is 58-years-old. One 'key' to the fleet's longevity is the 92nd Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight.

The Fabrication Flight consists of three sections: Aircraft Structural Maintenance, Aircraft Metals Technology and the Non-Destructive Inspection Lab. This highly-integrated flight consists of 60 active duty and air National Guard personnel. They are responsible for inspecting, modifying and repairing one of the oldest, yet highly-utilized assets in the Air Force - the KC-135.

"We go beyond merely changing parts," said Master Sgt. Harold Layne, 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight chief. "We reproduce obsolete parts and extend the life of the airframe far beyond what engineers originally designed it for. In many cases, we are the deciding factor on whether an aircraft part is returned to service or scrapped."

The first section of the Fabrication Flight, the Aircraft Structural Maintenance section is responsible for the upkeep and repair of the aircraft's frame, skin and paint. Due to the age of the aircraft and the heavy load it carries, a lot of the maintenance performed by this section deals with corrosion and cracks. Technicians combat corrosion by visually identifying it, removing it by sanding or grinding methods and restoring the paint. The techniques employed are not much different than what you would find in a auto body shop; they just use aircraft grade materials. Cracks are repaired using various fabrication and fastening methods. When a crack is discovered, it is removed from the frame or skin of the aircraft. A patch is fabricated out of the same material, only thicker, and attached to the aircraft using rivets and in certain applications, screws or bolts.

Their job is challenging, but also creative.

"Without us [aircraft structural maintenance], the structural integrity of our airframes would be diminished," said Senior Airman Joseph Manco, 92nd MXS Fabrication Flight Aircraft Structural Maintenance journeyman. "Our job is challenging; fabricating parts that can't be ordered through the supply system is sometimes hard, but it has a creative aspect to it - that's pretty cool."

The second section of the Fabrication Flight, the Aircraft Metals Technology section is the flight's focal point for all welding and machining operations. Through the use of Computer Numerically Controlled machines as well as lathes, mills and precision measurement equipment, this section is able to fabricate aircraft parts that were last manufactured more than 50 years ago. Metals Technology technicians also play an important role in maintaining 350 pieces of Aerospace Ground Equipment. Technicians from this section also specialize in removing stuck fasteners from parts as well as repairing fastener holes that have been damaged.

They pride themselves on salvaging thousands of dollars' worth of aircraft parts each year.

"I take pride in the fact that we seem to be the 'go to guys' when it comes to making required parts, whether unavailable at the time or they just don't make them anymore," said Airman 1st Class Jerry Brock, 92nd MXS Fabrication Flight Aircraft Metals Technology apprentice. "I enjoy the precision and in- depth thought process that goes into each project we have - it's as though everything we do is a puzzle and we have to make sure we account for each piece."

The last section of the Fabrication Flight, the Non-Destructive Inspection Lab focuses on crack and damage detection on aircraft using the least invasive methods possible. Through the use of specialized equipment, the technicians can identify cracks and other defects in metal that could cause catastrophic failure in flight. They also utilize x-ray equipment to look for water entrapment that could lead to corrosion. The NDI section is the wing's only DoD-certified laboratory for performing oil analysis. After taking samples from aircraft engines and gearboxes, the lab is able to determine the presence of metal particles which could indicate the likelihood of failure in a particular engine or gearbox.

To say the least, there job is "finite."

"My job is important because as the saying goes 'it's the little things that count,' said Senior Airman Robert Shelton, 92nd MXS Fabrication Flight Non-Destructive Inspection journeyman. "We find defects in the aircraft that are often not visible to the naked eye. We find defects that are half an inch under layers upon layers of metal to twenty inch cracks that can be seen with a naked eye. We are a part of the reason that wings or panels have not fallen off of our airframes, or an aircraft is able to take off after a hard landing. Without question, our flight is invaluable to the mission of the KC-135 Stratotankers - 'to bring fuel to the fight.'"