Fueling the fight: One inspection at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rito Smith
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Over the past three months, fuel systems technicians from the 6th Maintenance Squadron completed a full-top coat inspection on all 16 KC-135 Stratotanker at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

A top-coat inspection is an inspection of the protective coating on all integral fuel tanks. Airmen look for cracking, peeling and flaking of the coating. It is then scrubbed and wiped clean with solvent. While labor-intensive, these Airmen have worked non-stop 12-hour shifts since January to get all aircraft inspected and ready to fuel the fight.

“The estimated time of completion was about a week per aircraft,” said Senior Airman Allen Kilpatrick, fuel systems technician assigned to the 6th MXS. “We started to get a rhythm down, which cut the estimated time of completion by nearly 50 percent.”

Maintenance is essential to keeping these jets fit to fight and so are the Airmen who spend the time on each aircraft.

“The process was difficult,” said Master Sgt. Louis Lusco, fuel system section chief assigned to the 6th MXS. “The leadership let us come together on the ground to dictate what we could accomplish on what timeline.” 

With such an uncommon task ahead of them, the Airmen had to collaborate and think outside the box to decide the best approach.

“We went through a lot of different scenarios,” said Lusco. “At first we had people working 24/7 but eventually with the help of leadership we came to the conclusion that the Airmen needed two days off to rest so they could come in refreshed and ready to get the job done.”

Once they had the process in place, they began making strides towards the daunting task.

“The way jet engines work, they use fuel injectors to mist gas into the engines,” said Senior Airman Allen Kilpatrick. “If those become clogged with top coat the engines won’t work so we had to go in and inspect every fuel tank and scrub off any top coat.”

It takes a lot of time and attention to detail to keep these 60 year old aircraft flying but, no task is too big for MacDill’s maintainers.

“It was a very labor intensive job because we were crawling into portions of the tank we usually never go to,” said Lusco. “The areas were a lot smaller than what we normally go into and we had to be in there for extensive periods of time with respirators and gear on.”

With a little bit of practice the team came together and hit their stride finishing the aircraft well under the estimated time of completion.

“Sometimes they completed these aircraft with 50, 60 or 70 percent cutoff the estimated time of completion,” said Lusco. “But, not only did they knock that time down, they did it safely and by the book.”

At the end of the three month long journey the team came together and overcame against all odds to fuel the fight.

“The team did awesome,” said Lusco. “We would not be here today with 16 safe, fully capable aircraft for the pilots to fly without the hard work of these Airmen out here.”