SOUTHWEST ASIA — When listening to Senior Airman Tobias Budd dynamically describe the process of splicing a Royal Netherlands Air Force KC-10A Extender’s broken brake line, it’s easy to picture him using a swage tool to apply the pressure needed to morph two entangled metal cables into a functioning single line.
“What we did was splice their brake line because they weren’t able to get a new one in on time,” Budd, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron, Combat Metals Flight, aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, deployed from the 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, said about the September 2017 repair. “So, we spliced one end, swaged it, which is kind of crimping a piece of fake tube on top of it, and then attached it to the other end after cutting out the damage.”
It’s clear by his tone the repair itself wasn’t what made the job memorable. Budd said the unexpected opportunity to work with coalition forces on an unfamiliar airframe wasn’t even on his mind prior to deploying and alluded that combat metals is constantly called to assist other units, including non-aircraft related squadrons.
“Because we are fabrication, we obviously have a wide range of skills that come in handy anywhere,” said Master Sgt. Michael Konegni, 386th EMXS Combat Metals Flight chief, deployed from the Wyoming Air National Guard, 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyoming. “Anything that needs to be welded from backpack lockers to aircraft parts we can (make), it’s not strictly geared towards aircraft repair. That’s what we are trained to do but those skills can also be transferred over to the civilian side of things.”
The combat metals flight combines multiple Air Force specialties, including aircraft structural maintenance and aircraft metals technology technicians. This flight tends to be exclusive to deployed environments, allowing the utilization and optimization of available resources.
“While we are different AFSCs (Air Force specialty codes), we can consolidate everything into one area, which is obviously easier in the area of responsibility because of space availability,” said Konegni.
Stressing the importance of combat metals because of continuing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, Konegni said it’s very rare for a structural issue to ground an aircraft but when it does happen it could cause serious delays.
Senior Airman Tyler Case, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron aircraft metals technician, deployed from the 305th Maintenance Squadron, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, said a lot of his job while deployed is unscheduled maintenance and that having this capability allows them to fabricate or alter parts which would take weeks to have shipped to Southwest Asia. This in return saves the Air Force money and allows aircraft to resume the mission sooner.
For example, on September 21, 2017, an EC-130H Compass Call forward nose landing gear door sustained damage caused by a bird strike during flight, requiring combat metals technicians to complete an extensive aircraft battle damage repair. In less than 12 hours, the team was able to coordinate with Robins AFB engineers approving a plan to return the asset back to service six days early.
According to Konegni, by spending approximately $300 in materials, combat metals Airmen were able to save the Air Force more than $21,000 if they had to fully replace the part.
What is probably the most unique part of this environment is the diversity of active duty and Air National Guard members, said Konegni.
“It’s nice because you get different ideas from different viewpoints, from different places in the world off of different airframes,” he said. “I by no means dismiss what (junior enlisted airmen) see because they’ve worked airframes I’ve never seen before and they have tricks up their sleeves that come in handy on C-130s that I’ve never thought of.”