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Facets of fabrication

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jette Carr
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
The mission of the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight is to construct aircraft parts, but the work they do is anything but standard. They are called upon to construct parts for aircraft ranging from the Vietnam-era AC-130H Spectre gunship to the newly-minted MC-130J Commando II.

"Our job is aircraft structural maintenance, which considering the fact that we have several weapon systems here like the MQ-1 Predators, MQ-9 Reapers and various models of C-130s, we're one of the most unique shops or fights that you're going to find across the Air Force," said Master Sgt. Christian Addison, 27 SOMXS fabrication flight chief. "While most bases maintain one weapons system, we have to maintain six."

The fabrication flight is split into three job categories that work together to accomplish the task of keeping all aircraft airborne. These are: aircraft metals technology, non-destructive inspection and aircraft structural maintenance.

"Aircraft metals technology journeymen design, weld, heat treat, and fabricate machine precision tools, components and assemblies for aerospace weapon systems and related support equipment," said Master Sgt. Daron Kolb, 27 SOMXS fabrication flight chief. "They also design, manufacture or modify special precision tools, gauges and fixtures to facilitate metal working operations."

Airmen performing nondestructive inspection examine aircraft parts for structural integrity using eddy current, magnetic particle, radiographic, optical and ultrasonic test equipment to look for cracks and flaws without damaging the aircraft, said Kolb. They interpret these test results to provide information about defects to the repair center. This section also analyzes metal content in engine lubricating oil and other fluids and recommends corrective action if necessary.

According to Kolb, those who perform aircraft structural maintenance design, repair, modify and fabricate aircraft metal, plastic, composite, advanced composite, low observables and bonded structural parts and components. They apply preservative treatments to aircraft, missiles and support equipment and assemble structural parts and components to meet requirements for preserving structural integrity. This section identifies, removes and treats corrosion and also paints the aircraft.

"Usually, fabrication flight will maintain the 'iron birds' - metal aircraft such as C-130s or they will deal with advanced composites like carbon fiber," said Addison. "Bringing the remotely piloted aircraft and CV-22 Osprey online at Cannon has increased the need for advanced composite repair such as carbon fiber, Kevlar and fiberglass, among others."

"Why are composites so significant? Composites don't corrode like metals, and that's a huge thing, not just in the military, but everywhere," he said. "The strength to weight composites is considerably higher. It comes as a cloth, so the ability to fabricate more shapes is easier than metal, which has to be beaten, pounded and heated. It's also lighter and ten times stronger than a comparable piece of metal."

Kolb mentioned that the amount of training that goes into using all these materials is never-ending.

This vast amount of training paid off for Tech. Sgt. Daniel Graham, 27 SOMXS aircraft structural maintenance, while he spent seven months deployed with the CV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan.

"He was the first one from our shop to do actual battle damage repair on the CV-22 Osprey in a deployed location," said Addison.

Graham briefly recounted how he was able to implement his fabrication flight skills specifically for this aircraft while deployed.

"We had an aircraft come down with small arms fire," said Graham. "I went to work on the craft and within an eight hour period I patched up both holes and got the plane back in the air and the fight. That's a reward for all of us - getting to see the result of what we do for the mission."