Airmen of steel
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- It takes a lot to keep over 10 tons of metal soaring through the air. Whether that aircraft is designed to be able to withstand a great deal of damage like the A-10 Thunderbolt II, or more geared toward high speed and maneuverability like the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the importance of maintaining structural integrity is the same for both--vital.
Aircraft structural maintenance specialists from the 51st Maintenance Squadron preserve the structural integrity of all operational aircraft on base. They man both the corrosion control shop and the sheet metal shop.
“We work on anything made out of metal,” said Master Sgt. Andrew Manning, 51st MXS aircraft structural maintenance section chief. “Anything and everything that needs paint or is made out of metal, composites or fiberglass, we fix it.”
Physical damage can be caused by many different things such as foreign object debris, wind shear, corrosion, weather, and metal fatigue, all of which can lead to loss of structural integrity and the aircraft being grounded.
“We work on many different aircraft and each brings its own unique challenges,” said Manning. “An A-10 can still fly under certain restrictions, without repairs being made. Whereas with an F-16, if you have damage to one-thousandth of an inch and it has to be fixed before it can fly.”
Manning explained that phase and scheduled inspections bring in the majority of the shop’s work, 20 to 30 repairs a week. The number of repairs made can increase exponentially when the fighter squadrons are “surging” or launching aircraft as quickly as possible.
“During surges our quick response vehicles are called out to the flightline to make minor repairs on aircraft, the average turn time is 10 to 15 minutes before they’re good to go,” said Manning. “Between our three shifts, we might end up answering 20 to 30 calls in a single 24-hour period.”
The Airmen work around the clock repairing and fabricating aircraft parts using a variety of tools ranging from drills, hammers, saws and cutters to larger table-based saw, vices and alignment tools.
“Sometimes it’s not just a square patch of metal you’re repairing, you may get a circle or an ‘L’ shape,” said Senior Airman Obrine Brewster, 51st MXS aircraft structural journeyman. “Everything is like an art project, you start with a blank piece of metal that has nothing on it and you build parts of an aircraft--from nothing to something that takes flight.”
When called out to the phase docks the Airmen will inspect the metal components for any corrosion on the aircraft and make repairs on parts that couldn’t be sent back to the shop.
“It’s really cool to see how everything works to make the aircraft fly,” said Airman 1st Class Ian Michaels, 51st MXS aircraft structural apprentice. “What we repair helps hold everything together and keep the aircraft in the air.”
The sheet metal specialists work day and night either repairing damages or creating replacement parts for Osan’s aircraft, ensuring that each is able to quickly rejoin the fight tonight.