Wax on, Wax off

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ned T. Johnston
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
MacDill's 16 KC-135 Stratotankers play a key role in mission success each and every day. Whether it is refueling missions or aeromedical evacuations, the last thing aircrew wants to worry about is whether or not the aircraft has been washed.

Tasked with the assignment of keeping these massive aircraft clean are the "outdoor wash rack" Airmen from the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

The outdoor wash rack is not an official Air Force career field. Airmen are selected from different work sections around the 6th AMXS for a one month "tasking" to the wash rack.

"The wash rack is vital for the structural integrity of these jets," said Staff Sgt. Larry Washington, 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief and this month's outdoor wash rack supervisor. "Salt acts as an accelerator for corrosion, and with MacDill being so close to the water, corrosion is a constant threat."

Corrosion starts as a gray dulling of the surface, which eventually progresses into the destruction of the metal. If untreated, corrosion can make an aircraft "unairworthy" in just a few years.

With the size of the KC-135, these Airmen have to start the day off early.

"We start the day off at 4 a.m., so that way we can get through the wash before the sun rises and dries the soap to the jet and ruins the paint," said Senior Airman Joseph Rea, 6th AMXS aerospace guidance and control systems technician.

The wash takes roughly three to four hours to finish, which is followed by a supervisory inspection of the aircraft to ensure it has been properly cleaned.

"It's important that we are very thorough in the inspection," said Washington. "With such a huge aircraft, it's easy for a spot to be overlooked during the wash."

Once the wash is completed and the aircraft has passed inspection, the Airmen's job is not finished yet.

"We lube the aircraft to ensure free movement of flight controls and other vital components of the aircraft," said Washington.

The outdoor wash rack has to service each of MacDill's 16 KC-135s at least once a month. Also, each aircraft must be washed within five days of deployment.

"We stay pretty busy out here," said Rea. "You could drive by just about every morning and see us out here washing these jets."