Paint, fabricate, repair, repeat

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mariette Adams
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
In all capital letters, "MACDILL" is displayed proudly alongside the symbolic lightning bolt on the tail of a KC-135 Stratotanker. Once the aircraft structural maintenance technicians have applied all the identifiers to both the nose and tail of the aircraft, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, has officially received a new aircraft. The process would not be possible without the steady hand of Airmen assigned to the 6th Maintenance Squadron (MXS).

During the span of the aircraft's time here, the technicians are responsible for keeping the KC-135 structurally safe, mission ready and in the air to project airlift and refueling around the world.

"We provide preventive and corrective maintenance to the body of the aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Carrero, an aircraft structural maintenance technician with the 6th MXS. "We repair damage, inspect for corrosion and restore aircraft structural strength when needed."

These Airmen are responsible for the largest part of the aircraft, commonly known as the fuselage. In order to keep the fuselage functional and the KC-135 flight-ready, technicians must stay diligent. They perform structural inspections where they check for cracks, erosion, dents, and delamination.

If damage is found on one of the 60-year-old tankers, they are there to fix it. The Airmen must repair and replace the body's metal and even fabricate parts since many parts for the aircraft are no longer commercially produced.

Based on the technical orders and amount of damage at hand, the aircraft structural maintenance technicians use a slightly thicker metal to replace damaged sections of the aircraft, restoring the area to its proper strength.

If the damage exceeds the limits of their technical orders, an aircraft may become unfit for flight and is grounded until it is repaired. Their skill set becomes essential when there is flight-stopping damage. Therefore, the ability to paint, fabricate, repair and repeat is crucial; without it, the mission could fail.

For example, their skills were put to the test when corrosion was found on a light lens on the wing of a KC-135. The essential part provides visibility during flight and therefore, the aircraft became grounded. For a week, the technicians actively worked to repair the aircraft and soon it was back to refueling the mission.

Diligence is especially important in Florida's climate because MacDill is surrounded by salt water on three sides.

"Due to the salt in the water and air, MacDill is one of the most corrosive zones for aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Charles Kalck, an aircraft structural maintenance technician with the 6th MXS.

In an effort to limit exposure, KC-135s are frequently rotated among other KC-135 bases in the Air Mobility Command.

When the time comes again to rotate aircraft, MacDill maintainers will be ready to welcome the next KC-135 and provide unmatched support.