***image1***Amidst the clanging of steel on steel and the smell of engine oil, 30 maintainers look into panels, peer up at landing-gear wells and crouch under the flight deck of a C-130 Hercules in the “ISO dock” of Hangar 2.
It’s the first time in a year the Herk has been torn apart from nose to tail and wing tip to wing tip for a full isochronal inspection of every rivet, nook, cranny and bolt, said 1st Lt. Matt Smith, 86th Maintenance Squadron Isochronal Inspection officer.
“The Airmen actually rip panels out getting an in-depth look at everything,” he said. “It’s almost like overhauling your car, and it’s required for every C-130 once a year.”
“An ISO is like 25 different parallel inspections. For example, much of the parts of the aircraft are connected so if someone is working flight deck controls, connected to the engine, it’s very important that the engine troops know so that they can work on an engine that is unaffected by the flight deck effort.”
– Lt. Col. Christopher Mardis, 86th MXS commander
The overhaul can take up to 10 days and 100 people of varying specialties, ranging from engine troops, hydraulics, fuels and electricians, said Tech. Sgt. Charles Eckart, 86th MXS ISO dock coordinator.
“Our job is to look for everything: missing rivets, fasteners, loose hardware, dents in fuel line, leaks in the lines, electrical connectors, cuts, frays, anything. Even all seats are torn out to check for rips and tears,” said Sergeant Eckart.
On the aging Herks, whose primary mission is to fly into unimproved landing strips, structural damage and engine repair are the most common finds during the inspection.
“We use a ‘magic wand’ (an eddy current inspecting tool) to detect hairline cracks that can’t be detected with the naked eye,” said Sergeant Eckart.
The magic wand found a structural crack in this C-130’s nose that Airman James Norman and Staff Sgt. Justin Eisert from the Isochronal Inspection Section repaired.
Wading through hydraulic lines and sheet metal fasteners, “We had to replace the trunnion, install new bolts, raise the strut and then put the trunnion caps back on,” said Airman Norman.
“This is a fairly involved process of a major component,” said Sergeant Eckart. “The trunnion attaches the nose gear to the aircraft and gone unnoticed could have catastrophic consequences.”
Around the side of the aircraft are Airman Michael Troy and Staff Sgt. Gideon Shipman, two 86th MXS engine troops completing a full inspection of the left-side engines.
“With the 50-year-old aircraft, it’s like a wheel balance on your car,” said Sergeant Shipman, who likes the job because of the habitual work. “It’s pretty nice because with the steady work, I get to see the guts of the aircraft and get a feel for the whole rigging.”
Each engine’s thorough inspection includes safety wire checks, loose bolt tightenings and parts lubrication, said Airman Troy.
“We have to get through wire systems, engine components and bolts anyway we can to make repairs,” said Sergeant Shipman as he pointed out certain areas in the forest of metal and wire pins that make up the engine.
Due to the complexity of the engines, five to six people look at the same thing over nearly eight days to make sure nothing is missed.
“On newer aircraft like the B-2 bomber, engines are controlled with an electronic signal from the flight deck to the engine but on the Herk, with operations between the two done with pulleys, (engine work) takes an innate ability because there is a lot of rigging with cables, wires and bolts,” said Lieutenant Smith, who worked on B-2 bombers as a maintenance craftsman. “This is Willy Wonka stuff: pulleys and levers, 1950s technology; it’s not futuristic so it takes a lot more love, attention and TLC to get the Herk off the ground.”
The unique thing about the ISO inspection is the choreography it takes to synchronize each moving part into one element.
“An ISO is like 25 different parallel inspections,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Mardis, 86th MXS commander. “Each section functions nearly independently of the others for the actual inspection but everyone needs to know what the others are doing. For example, much of the parts of the aircraft are connected so if someone is working flight deck controls, connected to the engine, it’s very important that the engine troops know so that they can work on an engine that is unaffected by the flight deck effort. Knowledge of the aircraft’s status and communication is critical at all times.”
Each of the 30 maintainers will spend nearly two years before being fully qualified on an airframe.
“Before a first-termer is comfortable performing a full-system troubleshoot, he will spend about 18 months working an aircraft,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Kenneally, 86th MXS crew chief.
With the increase in operations tempo for the C-130s, the ISO Airmen are gaining plenty of hands-on training.
“These aircraft can take a beating, but the more they take, the more they need. Our guys are seeing a new aircraft roughly every two weeks, and they are quickly becoming proficient and expert,” said Sergeant Eckart.