Renewing a paint job may not seem like an important task to some, but for aircraft it can be the difference between continuing to fly and being decommissioned.
For the 60th Maintenance Squadron from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., they are unable to spray paint to renew their C-17s’ paint and have to roll the paint onto the aircraft. Airmen at McChord Field are able to spray paint and are working toward building a partnership with Travis AFB, and other C-17 bases, to use McChord facilities to meet this requirement.
Travis Airmen visited McChord to use their paint barn for the first time from July 31 to Aug. 9, as it takes about ten days to prepare and paint the jet while providing enough time for the paint to cure.
“McChord has arguably the best C-17 field level paint barn in Air Mobility Command (AMC),” said 1st Lt. Joshua Fugle, 62nd MXS fabrication flight commander. “The facility as it stands is good, but it needs upgrades to continue to be reliable and those upgrades cost money. Travis and many other bases not only don’t have a paint barn but are also extremely limited as to how and how much the base can paint.”
With McChord’s paint barn being a step above what most AMC bases have, and the need for other bases to paint their C-17s, McChord is sharing their facilities. The increase in traffic also helps further justify the needed paint barn upgrades.
“What we hope is this will be a mutually beneficial partnership,” said 2nd Lt. Krista Kelly, 60th MXS fabrication flight commander. “Long term, our goal is to get every single one of our jets touched up [at McChord] at least once in the next few years. We’ll probably do about three a year; at least that is what our hopes are, but we don’t know if that will happen.”
The paint on the C-17 protects the aircraft from water entrapment, provides ultraviolet protection, aids in fuel efficiency and, most importantly, is a form of corrosion control. Without the paint as a protective layer, the metal components, such as the panels, hinges, rivets, etc., would be eaten away by rust and potentially fall off. Spraying is much more effective in bonding the paint to the metal versus rolling it on, and can provide protection for a longer amount of time.
“It’s making sure we’re extending the life of our jet, and corrosion is the number one killer of jets,” Kelly said. “We don’t have anything else coming down the line to replace our C-17s, so we have to take the best care of them we can. That plane flies because of paint; corrosion prevention is vital. It’s a huge part of what we do.”
Because the 60th MXS does not have the permission or ability to spray-paint their C-17s, the Airmen stationed at Travis then do not have the means to train on how to use the spray paint equipment or prepare the jet for the process. Collaborating with the 62nd MXS to paint their C-17s at McChord Field provides their Airmen with the opportunity to learn those skill sets, making them better qualified Airmen.
“This is our first time painting here, and for a lot of these guys, this is the first time they are going to be spraying at all,” Kelly said. “Some of our [less experienced] members, and even some of our [more experienced], have never sprayed before because we can’t do it in California. We’re taking it pretty slow so they have all the training they need.”
This is Travis’ first trip to McChord for this purpose, and is a test to see how everything will go and if it will be a viable option to meet future needs.
“The 62nd Airlift Wing has been fabulous in regards to making sure we have all of the supplies we may need,” Kelly said. “Working with them has been a dream. A lot of this trip is specifically going back and making sure we know what we need for next time. Lessons learned, like things that we didn’t bring enough of or at all.”
The ultimate plan is to have multiple bases using McChord’s paint barn to maintain their C-17s.
“The initial test run was a great success,” Fugle said. “This was just one of many to come as we are working with almost every C-17 base to make McChord the AMC C-17 regional paint facility. Travis was first due to proximity, interest in the program and the EPA hardships they face in California.”
“Like any program this regional paint facility can either be a huge benefit to AMC or it can become the bane of the corrosion control program, it all depends on how it is treated and how we as leaders treat our assets,” Fugle continued. “If not properly managed, we will have a great idea with high expectations turn into a total flop. I fully believe our leadership team is on track to make this program a success and the greater Air Force will benefit from this partnership.”
Every base is like a wheel or cog in the engine that is the Air Force. It is when they work together that the Air Force can be most efficient and achieve its goals.
“I think it will be beneficial for us to come up here and use these resources,” said Staff Sgt. Fernando Ortiz, 60th MXS aircraft structural maintenance technician. “We’re all one Air Force. I know there are different bases and subcultures, but at the end of the day we’re all in the same Air Force and should be helping each other out.”
McChord is working on building a new partnership with all of the bases in its command that will help extend the life of one of their vital assets to better the Air Force for everyone involved.
“MXS is a great team and we all believe in being good teammates across the C-17 community,” said Anthony Babcock, 62nd Maintenance Group commander. We’re really pleased that we can help out other units across the Air Force.”