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MacDill fab flight: “You break it, we fix it”

A KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft sits on the flightline at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 1, 2018.

A KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft sits on the flightline at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 1, 2018. MacDill is home to 24 KC-135s and provides rapid aerial refueling to enable worldwide operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan C. Grossklag)

Airmen from the fabrication flight assigned to the 6th and 927th Maintenance Squadron fabricate parts March 23, 2016, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Structural maintenance Airmen are responsible for fabricating parts and repairing the aircraft in order to keep the KC-135 Stratotanker mission-ready. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mariette Adams)

Airmen from the fabrication flight assigned to the 6th and 927th Maintenance Squadron fabricate parts March 23, 2016, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Structural maintenance Airmen are responsible for fabricating parts and repairing the aircraft in order to keep the KC-135 Stratotanker mission-ready. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mariette Adams)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stanley Mays, a 6th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight nondestructive inspection craftsman, conducts metal testing at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stanley Mays, a 6th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight nondestructive inspection craftsman, conducts metal testing at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018. Metals testing ensures each fabricated piece meets specifications for a KC-135 to ensure safety and mission success. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan C. Grossklag)

Metal is prepared for parts fabrication at the 6th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight workshop at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018.

Metal is prepared for parts fabrication at the 6th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight workshop at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., Nov. 7, 2018. The metal is heated to break down its composition and meet specific requirements for aircraft maintenance, ultimately ensuring mission readiness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ryan C. Grossklag)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

The KC-135 Stratotanker has fueled missions around the globe for more than 60 years. It's long track record is a direct reflection of the tremendous work aircraft maintainers put into the jets, especially MacDill’s 6th Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight who push their pedal to the metal anytime a part demands fixing.

“Our main mission is to enable successful sorties by generating aircraft parts, ultimately maintaining our full spectrum readiness,” said 2nd Lt. Danilo Navo, the Fabrication Flight Commander. “Our team encounters new repairs that force changes in direction and orders, but they all adapt and constantly find ways to make sure the job gets done.”

Maintaining the aging aircraft can be challenging as some parts are no longer commercially produced and the Fabrication Flight must collaborate and innovate to construct parts on their own.

“We all need each other in order to complete a task and make sure operations are done correctly,” said Staff Sgt. Kurtis Geiger, a 6th MXS aircraft structural maintenance craftsman. “Everything revolves in a circle – sheet metals technicians hand over parts to metals technicians who follow their technical order before sending to nondestructive inspection to make sure the piece is good for use on an aircraft.”

To display the teamwork necessary, Geiger and Staff Sgt. Andrew Flanagan, a 6th MXS aircraft metals technician, walked through the Fabrication Flight process. 

Sheet metals technicians, like Geiger, kick off operations by receiving technical orders for KC-135 repairs. Geiger analyzes his technical order and pulls a thin, malleable sheet from their collection. The sheet is then cut to the specific measurements and handed off to a metals technician like Flanagan to be heat treated in a large oven.

"The metal sits in the oven at the maximum temperature for 30 minutes to loosen the grain before being placed in a separate oven for 24 to 72 hours" said Flanagan. "On our side we handle breaking the metal down and then crafting it to match the technical order for the specific part."

When completed, Flanagan hauls the piece over to nondestructive inspection where Tech. Sgt. Stanley Mays, a nondestructive inspection craftsman, conducts tests to ensure the part is compositionally sound and safe for use on a KC-135.

"With the resources we have here, from x-rays to currents tests, we are the final stop on a part's journey to an aircraft," said Mays. "If anything is wrong with the part, it's flagged and sent back to the workshop to either correct the issue, or start the operations all over again."

Accuracy in fabrication is essential in getting aircraft back up flying. When the part has completed all processes and is cleared for use, it is installed onto the aircraft, restoring the jet as a ready and capable refueler.

Fabrication flight Airmen gain a sense of accomplishment by witnessing their work come to fruition each time a KC-135 takes off.

“Having combatant commands and other mission partners on base only adds to the importance of mission success,” said Geiger. “I take pride in the work of the flight, seeing the aircraft out there completing missions thanks to the maintenance here is an amazing feeling.”

MacDill’s KC-135’s are on continuous, rotating deployments to provide mobility around the world and around the clock. With 24 KC-135s assigned to MacDill, maintaining these aircraft is vital to the warfighter.