Aircraft Structural Maintenance: MXS’ structural maintenance shop keeps aircraft flying, looking great

  • Published
  • By Tyler Hemstreet
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
From the newly refinished C-17 Globemaster III model perched on a stand in front of Bldg. 100 to the freshly repainted C-82 Packet aircraft at McChord's Air Museum, the 62nd Maintenance Squadron's Aircraft Structural Maintenance shop plays a key role in keeping McChord looking sharp.

"A lot of places, you're only as good as your product looks," said ASM's flight chief Senior Master Sgt. Tom Pfister, 62nd MXS. "When our aircraft go
off-station, they reflect McChord."

Though the ASM flight takes great pride in the outward appearance of McChord's active and retired airplanes and support equipment, the shop is responsible for more than just applying preservative treatments and paint.

A large majority of the shop's complex work deals with repairing damaged outer panels of aircraft. Many of the outer pieces on the C-17 are made of advanced composite materials, with each layer overlapping the next, so repair requires careful attention.

The composite materials now used in building airplanes have caused the career field to expand and change quite a bit since the days of the mostly-metal C-141 Starlifter at McChord, said ASM section chief Master Sgt. Michael Wisniewski, 62nd Maintenance Squadron.

"The career development course manuals have gone from three volumes to five in the last few years," Sergeant Wisniewski said.

The shop's crew, composed of Airmen, civilians and Air Reserve Technicians, still works with metals, but there is now a larger focus on advanced composites such as carbon fiber and other aramid synthetic fibers, Sergeant Wisniewski said.

Whenever one of McChord's C-17s sustain damage to an exposed area, the ASM shop teams up with the fabrication flight's nondestructive inspection shop to help identify how deep the damage inside the composite runs.

"They help us pinpoint exactly just what we need to do to repair it," said Sergeant Wisniewski.

Using a router or a skin knife, ASM Airmen remove the damaged composite section and carefully craft a new one, sometimes using a hand-built mold.

"Every one of us is a craftsman," Sergeant Pfister said. "We are artists in our own right. We can make anything."

The shop also helps to identify and create solutions to prevent future damage to aircraft parts.

Recently, the shop saw several C-17s coming in with extensive damage inside their cargo doors, due to the airplanes landing on unfinished runways at deployed locations. Rocks and other debris damaged the fragile composite gear door each time the aircraft touched down.

The shop devised a high-density foam coating that fits tightly in the door's lining, creating a light, yet solid, shield for the composite.

"The foam catches or deflects the rocks or debris and saves us from the manpower and time required to install a new cargo door," Sergeant Wisniewski said. "It also saves the Air Force the costs for a new door."

By working hand in hand with Boeing representatives, the two sides develop ideas to better equip the C-17 to prevent damage to areas where routine damage occurs.

It's all in a pursuit to find a better way of doing things, said Sergeant Wisniewski.