Metals technology Airmen improve process to reverse engineer KC-135 parts

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Sean Campbell
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Maintenance Airmen here are using new equipment to create hard-to-find KC-135 Stratotanker parts more quickly and accurately. This not only benefits Fairchild, but all bases that fly the airframe.

Metals technicians with the 92nd Maintenance Squadron machine shop upgraded from a single spindle lathe, to a dual spindle lathe. A lathe is a machine that rotates metal while tools cut into it to create the desired part.

The single spindle lathe did not adjust the part automatically, forcing Airmen to manually adjust the piece after machining one end to enable machining on the other end creating the potential for misalignment. Improper alignment could cause inaccurate cuts, which could render aircraft parts unusable.

With the new equipment, after one side of a part is finished, the dual spindle lathe will transfer the part from one spindle to the other and work on the other side without having to manually reposition the part, said Senior Airman Shane Johnson, 92nd Maintenance Squadron metals technician.

"On a traditional machine we only have three axis to work with, and some parts have six or more sides and we could only do one side at a time," said Tech. Sgt. John Laska, 92nd MXS NCO in charge of aircraft metals technology. "The machine's turret will spin to cut the piece and the machine will slowly spin the part around so it can continue to cut all sides."

Creating aircraft parts quickly and more accurately is critical to maintaining the 60-year-old Stratotankers.

"The contracts for civilian companies to manufacture [KC-135 Stratotanker] parts are starting to expire," Laska said. "This makes parts hard to come by, so KC-135 machine shops are having to seek approval to reverse engineer and create these parts because they are not available in the supply system."

According to Laska, with Boeing approval, the new machine could be used to make parts for KC-135s assigned to other bases as well.

The machine shop also partnered with a local manufacturer who uses the machine, to send Airmen off base to learn more about it from the workers who use it.

"The double spindle lathe gives the shop a vast increase in capabilities of machining parts that we couldn't machine before," Johnson said. "This helps with our main focus of manufacturing any part that comes to this shop."