Raising the Bar: Fuels Team Rises to the Challenge

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general speaks to Master Sgt. Aaron Hoff while Hoff was deployed with the 176th Air Expeditionary Maintenance Unit at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Sept. 15, 2017.

During our 2017 Theater Security Package deployment to Kunsan Air Force Base, we were dispatched to evaluate a fuel leak. The leak was classified as a “grounding condition” due to its location. The leak was running directly onto the Jet Fuel Starter Exhaust, which is a heat point that could potentially start a fire. A repair was imperative to return the aircraft to fully mission capable.

The aircraft was towed to the fuel cell where we immediately began leak path analysis. We discovered that the wing skin had been previously repaired due to an abnormally large amount of sealant left behind. We removed the excess sealant and the leak appeared to speed up. The first repair attempt was to re-inject sealant directly into that channel. It remained difficult to locate its exact exit point, so we decided to repack the three wing to fuselage interconnects directly above the location as well. We leak checked the jet and the leak quickly reappeared. The three wing interconnects’ seals could’ve been potentially damaged during install due the tight area they go into, as this does happen occasionally. We again and removed the three interconnects for re-inspection, the seals appeared to be in good condition and the holes they are placed in appeared to be in good condition.

We replaced the seals again just in case, and again the leak check was bad. From this point we needed to determine if the leak was coming from the wing or fuselage side to determine the next best course of action. There were only a few potential areas it could be coming from. The wing skin, the fuselage skin, the fasteners that mount the three interconnects housings to the wing, or the fasteners that mount the three interconnects housings on the fuselage. After moving the fuel loads around we determined it was the wing. In order to repair the leak the wing needed to be removed. We immediately had two team members start putting together a list of materials needed to identify what was on hand and what needed to be placed on order.

There were several limiting factors discovered. There were no serviceable wings in the supply system and the earliest we could acquire one would be well over a month away. Proper tools and equipment for this task were not brought on this trip due to the fact this is an uncommon repair. We lacked a sufficient amount of various sized O-rings, retainers, and new hardware for this large task. Kunsan did not have a 4000lb engine trailer. The optional use of a hoist was available and operable but was overdue for its annual load test. The optional sling assembly used with the hoist on station was for a block 40 wing, which we discovered needed to have different mounting plate manufactured to fit our block 30.

There also was a lack of experience on performing this task as well. I was the only person who had experience from the Air National Guard and only two active duty Airmen that had performed a wing removal.

As a unit, we needed to discuss the options due the limiting factors. I briefed the command staff of all the issues that we had, and those that could arise during this process. During wing removal it’s not uncommon to discover gouges or scratches on bulkheads, damage inside the holes that the wing mounting bolts go through, or damaged tubing. Many of these tubes are no longer available in the supply system.

Further discussion and the confidence I had given our command staff resulted in the decision to remove the wing, see exactly what the issue was, and deal with the outcome

Once the decision was made I immediately contacted home station and had them send all the required tools, hardware and sealant we were lacking, Most of this was carried over by MSgt Matthew Randall from home station to our location.  The remaining items were shipped. We were able to coordinate the inspection of the hoist, and a new sling assembly mounting plate was quickly manufactured in Metals Tech by TSgt Bradley Boesch. I assembled a team of six dedicated wing team members; Four ANG and two active duty members to work 12 hour shifts until completion of the task. The members were: TSgt. Christopher Schreiber, SSgt. David Nelson, SSgt. Michael Zastrow, SSgt. Brian Fendley and SrA John Radford.

I originally gave an Estimated Time of Completion (ETOC) of roughly eight days for the repair to be completed assuming we could make a repair to the wing and reinstall it. Upon removal of we were able to pressure check the wing. We discovered the leak exit point was two rivets that were the mounting hardware for the wing spool interconnect housings. The repair was quickly made by aircraft structures specialist SrA Matthew Lundy.

We refueled and leak checked the wing and it was leak free. This amazing team effort allowed us to beat the eight-day ETOC. We thought it was funny when our commander, Lt. Col. Jon Sacia came down to see the wing removed on day four, but we had already repaired and reinstalled it. He was sad he missed it but highly impressed at the job we had performed.

That was an extremely proud moment for myself and the team.  The next highlight was when Maj. General Dunbar took the time to see firsthand what we had accomplished. The best moment was when we watched the aircraft take off for its first time since the repair and come back with no issues.

We were able to complete this task so quickly and efficiently because of the great teamwork and coordination we as a unit could provide. This is a true testament of companionship, team work and overall a great bond between members of the ANG and active duty.

~Master Sgt. Aaron Hoff

 

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, and U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Safer, 115th Fighter Wing command chief, speak with a group of Airmen from the 176th Air Expeditionary Maintenance Unit at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Sept. 15, 2017.