***image5***The fabrication flight is one of the largest and busiest of seven flights assigned to the 86th Maintenance Squadron. Fifty-eight people work in four distinct duty sections: structural maintenance, metals technology, non-destructive inspection and survival equipment. Together they help the 86th Maintenance Group keep the 40-plus year-old aircraft mission ready day in and day out. Give these folks enough time and material and they can make a C-130 from scratch. Here are a few examples of what these maintainers achieve in keeping Ramstein’s C-130s airworthy.
Structural maintenance personnel were called out to repair an aircraft’s cracked skin and substructure on a section of the wing leading edge. The repair began with the shop cutting out a 3-by-4 foot-section of the leading edge and installing doublers on the inside of the wing (brackets attaching the new patch to the leading edge). A flat sheet of metal is then transformed into a curved and contoured aerodynamic skin to match the original curvature of the wing. Once seated, the patch, secondary skin, ribs and outer skin are all riveted back together as one. It sounds simple, but 72 hours of in-depth maintenance were required to complete the task.
On another occasion, the metals technology section was put to the test when a special inspection for the aircraft center wing box was performed. Mechanics discovered a 16-inch crack on the truss rib, a 23-inch-long vital component that attaches the engine to the wing. After six hours of programming, machine setup and final measurements, the forming process was ready to begin. During this process, a solid, two foot-long block of aluminum was transformed into a new precision machined structural member ready for installation into the airframe. To make matters more challenging, Airmen discovered that the holes were drilled at such an angle when the original rib was installed years ago, that over time, the torque from the propeller spinning elongated the holes in the main structure of the airframe. The fix was to drill oversized holes approximately three times larger than the original size, squeeze a piece of metal slightly bigger in the hole and drill new holes to manufactured specifications where the original center was. This process took one week to perfect. And, the team made its own tools and fixtures from scratch to complete the task.
Monthly, the non-destructive inspection section completes an average of 300 inspections to ensure the integrity of the aircraft’s structure and components. Some people may have seen a video clip of the fire-fighting C-130 with its wings folded backwards in flight. NDI continuously does special inspections in this area to prevent a catastrophe like that from recurring. Anytime a major component of the aircraft is removed, it is sent to NDI to be inspected for cracks utilizing special equipment far more advanced than what can be detected by the human eye. Whether using X-ray, cosmetic dye, ultrasound or magnetic fields, one can be assured that if a component has a defect, no matter how small, NDI Airmen will find it.
Finally, the survival equipment section, which is in the process of transitioning to the 86th Operational Support Squadron, completes vital inspections on the parachute – the last things any pilot ever wants to use − and other life saving equipment. In a typical month, survival equipment Airmen inspect eight life rafts, 200 life preservers and 30 parachutes. In February, six chutes were sent to Ramstein from the AOR for inspection/repair – the parachutes suffered from hard time in a harsh environment. Airmen first washed and hung the parachutes to dry. Next, they performed a thorough inspection of every square inch of fabric and webbing, followed by replacement of suspension lines, and finally, sewing to bring these critical assets back up to specification. In the end, only $75 dollars was spent to refurbish these chutes ultimately, saving the Air Force more than $22,000. So much can be said about the fabrication flight − this is only a snapshot of what they do on a daily basis in keeping our Air Force in the fight. So, the next time you see one of our checkerboard RS tails (decorated by fab flight, of course,) punching a hole in the sky, you can be assured that the 86th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight has had a hand in getting it airworthy.