Composite Repair Flight keeps aircraft bodies in shape

  • Published
  • By Wayne Crenshaw
  • 78 ABW/PA
Keeping an older car in pristine condition often requires the services of a good body shop, and when it comes to the C-5 and C-17 cargo planes, the Composite Repair Flight at Robins helps fill that role.

The flight works on damaged composite panels that make up portions of the body of the planes. Composite panels are made up of metal honeycomb structure and fiberglass, said Lucion Foreman, supervisor of the flight's Miscellaneous Panel Shop.

He said composite panels have come in greater use in recent years because the panels are lighter than sheet metal. When the planes come in for programmed depot maintenance, mechanics remove damaged panels to be sent to the shop for repair.

Due to age of many of the planes, Foreman said, new parts are often not available to replace heavily damaged panels, so it's up to the shop to restore the panels.

Hail and moisture damage are the most common problems the shop sees in the panels. Foreman said he has also seen bullet holes.

With moisture damage, water gets into the honeycomb in the panels and causes damage and the honeycomb has to be replaced.

Workers in the shop said they enjoy what they do because of the variety of challenges they face in repairing damaged panels.

"You face different challenges every day," said William Dean, work leader in the shop. "Some things are repetitious but for the most part you see different types of damage every day."

The shop used to be caused the Metal Bond Shop, Foreman said, but the name changed because of the transition to composite material. However, the shop still does some sheet metal work and metal bonding.

It has three autoclaves, one of which is about big enough to drive a school bus into. The autoclave is a large cylinder in which the parts are placed after the bonding work is done, and the pressurized heat in the autoclave causes the parts to bond together, Foreman said. Most of the parts are "cooked" in the autoclave for 90 minutes at 250 degrees.

Foreman said the large autoclave was here when he started working here 31 years ago. He wasn't sure about the original cost, but he said replacing it is estimated to cost $50 million, which is why considerable effort is put into maintaining it.

Dan said quality and safety are two of the shop's biggest priorities. In 2008 the shop as declared a Gold Site in the Commander's Challenge Voluntary Protection Program.