This is depot work - this is what this base was meant to do

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
Heavy structural repairs occur every single day at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, yet one in particular has received some extra attention over the last few months.

As an F-15C was moving early on through programmed depot maintenance in the 561st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, a vertical crack measuring about seven inches was discovered along one section of the fighter jet's bulkhead.

This particular aircraft had been previously inspected in the field using an ultrasonic testing technique (nondestructive inspection); however, when the aircraft arrived on station the crack that was detected earlier this summer was larger than anticipated. Lab testing will continue to further investigate. 

After consultations with system program office engineers, the options were to either replace this particular bulkhead or scrap the entire plane.

"You can't use an airplane if that crack gets too big," said Dave Currie, an F-15 aerospace engineer.  

Remove and Replace
An expensive part to purchase and replace, the decision was made to replace the 626 bulkhead through the Defense Logistics Agency supply chain. The 626 bulkhead sits near the rear of the aircraft and center fuselage. It's a significant structural component that takes a lot of wear and tear during flight, and connects several critical pieces of the aircraft, including the wings and engines. 

Planning began and procedures were set in motion to figure out how to accomplish this first-ever repair process. It was pulled out of regular maintenance into an unscheduled depot level maintenance gate for additional work. Once the work's completed, it will continue through PDM. 

With the replacement bulkhead originating from an E model, there would be a learning curve when it came time to separate the aircraft's existing cracked bulkhead, and install a new one. 

But in order to remove the bulkhead, the aircraft had to be split in half. 

"The most challenging part involved removing the fasteners that were inside the center fuselage," said Dennis Pickett, 561st AMXS aircraft structural repair mechanic. "They were hard to get to and knock out. You get pretty scratched up doing it." 

The entire process from disassembly of the aircraft to installing the new bulkhead took seven weeks which was on schedule. Special tooling was required to drill the wing lugs which delayed the project five weeks. However, work resumed early this month and was completed Aug. 8.  The aircraft now moves into the reassembly phase with estimated completion Aug. 24. 

Pickett estimates that once it came time to reinstall the bulkhead, 500 to 600 fasteners were tediously and carefully re-attached to marry the two sections. Everything had to be perfectly in place during assembly; no single hole alignment can be off.

"What we tried to do once it was taken off is put it back in the same position it was in, if not better," he said. "It'll be a better plane going out than coming in. 

"This is very tedious work that needs to be done right," Pickett added. "This bulkhead is carrying a lot of stress and a lot of weight - there's no room for error. You make one error, and you don't get another bulkhead."

Staff Sgt. Glynn McDaniel, 402nd Expeditionary Maintenance aircraft battle damage repair technician, spends a lot of time travelling to locations to repair aircraft. He said this opportunity afforded him good training, learning different techniques along the way. 

"The most stressful thing about taking it apart was accounting for every single small piece you took off," he said. "You keep everything because you never know what you can't have, can't find or can't order later on."  

McDaniel said the work was educational.

"There's so much to learn," he said. "As far as structural repair, this is it right here. It doesn't get any heavier than this."  

More than just a job
The core team is quick to point out that success of the bulkhead replacement didn't involve just a single shop. Everyone from DLA to NDI to the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group and 402nd EDMX played an essential part.

"I think the next time this happens we'll be ready," said Rick Weeks, 561st AMXS flight chief. "We know the tooling we need, how things should flow and all the players we need." 

Pickett, who has been at Robins for 30 years said it takes more than just showing up to do this kind of work. 

"I tell everyone that it's all about experience, knowledge and dedication. If you don't have dedication to this job, you'll never get it done. This is a reflection on you. Work together, and we'll get the job done," he said. 

"F-15s, C-130s have their heavy load, C-5s and C-17s - all have certain jobs that they can only do at Robins Air Force Base," he said. "This is depot work - this is what this base was meant to do."

What to know:
Robins F-15 work ensures success at home, downrange

Coalition forces continue to attack Islamic State terrorists using airstrikes, which include F-15s as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria carried out 2,829 airstrikes in July, the most in any month since August 2014.

With the help of an F-15 in March, the U.S. dropped tens of thousands of leaflets as part of psychological operations against ISIS in Syria.

F-15s were scrambled over the Memorial Day weekend in response to anonymous threats phoned in regarding several airline flights. Additionally, two U.S. F-15s intercepted Russian bombers as they flew within 40 miles of the U.S. mainland, off the coast of California during the July 4 holiday.

This month marks the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Shield, which involved the deployment of U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia to combat Saddam Hussein's advances beyond Kuwait. The Air Force was one of the first on the scene deploying F-15 aircraft.