DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Sun rays reflect off the radar-absorbent paint of U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancers and C-130J Super Hercules’ as they sit on the flightline. Both eye-catching aircraft are a sought after sight for military enthusiasts, but few people think about who keeps the exterior and parts of the aircraft in a striking and mission ready state.
Repairing, manufacturing, inspecting, and preventing corrosion of aircraft parts: The 7th Equipment Maintenance Squadron’s Fabrication Flight at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, works around the clock to extend aircraft lifespans to keep our fleet in the fight. The fabrication flight’s sections include aircraft metals technology, aircraft structural maintenance, non-destructive inspection and corrosion control. These sections are critical to the striking capabilities of the B-1 and the global reach of the C-130.
The AMT section handles the welding, building and shaping of aircraft components. With the B-1 being cold war technology, not all of it’s parts are still manufactured to be purchased. This keeps AMT Airmen busy with providing the bomber with the necessary parts to complete the mission. They also build smaller-scale C-130J parts that are critical to it’s interior storage.
“We’re really important at AMT because when something breaks on the aircraft, we fix it,” said Airman 1st Class Richard Cory, 7th EMS aircraft metals technician. “It’s challenging working for two different airframes, but it’s a good challenge. I have a lot of pride in supporting both wings at Dyess.”
As Cory polished the end of a C-130 life support rack holder, he mentioned that it would later be inspected by the NDI section.
Senior Airman Austin Hall, 7th EMS NDI journeyman, said, “At NDI we use dye-penetrant, magnetic-particle, eddy-current, ultrasonic, and x-ray techniques to inspects aircraft parts for cracks.”
NDI’s direct impact to the mission comes from their ability to find the smallest of cracks in a faulty part. They run a magnetic current through aircraft parts using a portable eddy-current creator, about the size of an electronic drill. Next, they dim the lights in the NDI facility and begin to coat the magnetized part with a magnetic-particle spray. Last, they look over the part with a blacklight and check for any clumps of the magnetic particles. Clumps on the part indicate that it may be cracked. If a crack is present, NDI sends it to ASM for fabrication.
It has been said that gravity itself can cause wear and tear on stationary aircraft and the damage a small bird can do to a 190,000 pound moving aircraft is significant. When this happens, AMS Airmen are in charge of mending any sort of cracks or punctures.
Senior Airman Isaac Alvarado, 7th EMS ASM journeyman, said what they do is simple but important. “We get these aircraft back into the air and we do it efficiently. Whether it’s fixing cracks or punctures, we’re really just here to get C-130Js and the B-1s back to the line so Dyess is ready when we’re called upon.”
After a cracked portion of an aircraft is repaired by ASM, it is then sent over to corrosion control. Corrosion does a lot more than paint aircraft. They layer critical radar-absorbent paint and protective coating on aircraft that helps protect them from the elements while being stealthy.
“Aircraft wouldn’t be around long without us,” said Senior Airman David Gire, 7th EMS ASM corrosion specialist. “All the different types of rust and corrosion on aircraft are prevented by our paint. We take our jobs seriously here. People might just think we’re painters, but my career’s paint jobs have kept the B-1 going well after the cold war.”
The teamwork of these four sections is what makes the fabrication flight successful.
“If I could give these Airmen a raise for what they do every day, I would,” said Senior Master Sgt. Pablo Rodriguez, 7th EMS fabrication flight chief. “They surprise me every day, because they make miracles happen and not because they’re given to them. It’s because they truly make them happen.”
As B-1s project global strike capability and C-130s continue providing their reach, they’ll continue to turn heads. One can only hope that heads will turn to the Airmen who continue to make that happen: The 7th EMS fabrication flight.