Fabricators fab Fighting Falcons
By Senior Airman Ashley Maldonado, 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 06, 2018
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- As an F-16CM Fighting Falcon soars across the sky, harsh winds peel off some of the gray paint, causing corrosion to the jet.
Airmen with the 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight have the ability to repair, create and maintain Team Shaw aircraft and maintenance equipment.
“We support everyone,” said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Woodle, 20th EMS aircraft structural maintenance section chief. “If it requires repair, inspection or anything like that, we do it all.”
The flight consists of 125 Airmen, each assigned to one of three sections: metals technology, nondestructive inspection and aircraft structural maintenance.
The metals technology section is responsible for creating aircraft and equipment parts from solid blocks of metal, sometimes making parts that would otherwise cost the base and the Air Force more than $300,000.
“We basically can take a solid block of aluminum steel, titanium or any other alloy and turn it into whatever part (20th Fighter Wing tactical aircraft maintainers) need it to be,” said Tech Sgt. Steven Edwards, 20th EMS metals technology noncommissioned officer in charge. “At the same time, if they have a part that is cracked or broken, we will take it and repair it.”
The NDI section is in charge of radiography, magnetic particle inspection, liquid penetrant inspection, oil analysis, eddy current testing and ultrasonic testing. The NDI Airmen perform inspections to reduce the chance something will go wrong with the aircraft while it is in the air.
“They do different types of inspections with six methods,” said Master Sgt. Anthony Seckel, 20th EMS fabrication flight flight chief. “They detect fractured critical parts and parts that are failing before you can see it with the naked eye.”
Woodle said aircraft structural maintenance Airmen typically deal with sheet metal, advanced composites, carbon fiber, acrylics for jet canopies and many other aircraft parts.
“We have a second component within the ASM section,” said Woodle. “We oversee the corrosion control facility, so we manage the wash rack and the corrosion programs as it pertains to the aircraft. Anything out here that needs paint on it to keep it from corroding, we take care of. So, we do the fabrication piece and we do the corrosion control piece.”
The majority of maintenance within the flight is unscheduled. The Airmen’s workload depends on the flying schedule as well as how intensely and often the jets are flown. The only maintenance scheduled are objects that are brought to the paint facility for a new coat of paint.
In fabricating these materials and products, the flight saves the Air Force millions of dollars by creating or inspecting aircraft parts and pieces of equipment before they go bad. This also extends the longevity of the aircraft.
“Fabrication is a skill; it’s an art,” Seckel said. “These guys make amazing things. Sometimes, I’m still amazed by some of the stuff that comes out of these shops and by some of the inspections they do; the small, minute imperfections that they can detect preventing catastrophic loss of our aircraft and the pilots’ lives.”
Ranging from 3,000 to 8,000 maintenance actions per month, the fabrication flight is responsible for and maintains more than $43 million worth of equipment.
“Our days are pretty dynamic no matter where we are because there is no scheduled maintenance,” Woodle said. “At any moment, (20th FW tactical aircraft maintainers) could walk in with a cracked bulkhead and require something from us; typically, that’s a joint effort from all (three sections). We’re dynamic enough to where we have to be able to pivot at the drop of a hat and be able to move to do whatever we need to do. We’ve become pretty good at being flexible.”
The fabrication flight keeps 20th FW F16s flying whenever and wherever they are needed, and provides combat-ready Airmen for the Air Force’s maintenance force.
As Shaw’s F16s return from training and real-world missions, fabrication flight Airmen are prepared to repair any damage on the aircraft and equipment so Team Shaw can continue to be combat-ready.