Gun Plumbers: reassembling the old with the new

0
58
Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Mya M. Crosby

Staff Sgt. Christian Hunt, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament section supervisor, performs a foreign object inspection on an ammunition drum at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 7, 2017. The armament sections are also known as “Gun Plumbers” because of their involvement with the GAU-8 cannon.

Inside the 355th Equipment and 924th Maintenance Squadrons’ back shop at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., a group of Airmen are using innovative problem solving to modernize traditional ways of maintaining the Air Force’s ability to fly, fight and win.

The Airmen form an armament team known as the “Gun Plumbers,” that disassembles, inspects and reassembles parts which are critical to the action of close air support vital to saving the lives of ground troops downrange.

“It’s something different every day,” said Senior Airman Cory Molina, 924th Maintenance Squadron armament team member. “If something is not electrically functioning, we start to diagnose the problem, troubleshoot it and put it back together again. Seeing it work is the coolest part of the job.”

A primary focus of the armament team is the A-10C Thunderbolt II’s GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon, a 7-barrel gun that has the capability to shoot 42,000 rounds per minute.

“The A-10 and the GAU-8 is a monster to work on,” said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Sisk, 355th EMS armament section supervisor. “It’s older than any other aircraft I’ve worked on.”

Airmen assigned to the 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron and 924th Maintenance Squadron armament section perform maintenance on a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon from an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 7, 2017. The life cycle of the cannon is 250,000 rounds or approximately 10 to 15 years.

The team can receive a “hot gun,” which is a malfunctioning GAU-8. Personnel who come into contact with the jammed gun must be specially trained to avoid casualties which could result from mishandling the cannon.

“You become hot gun certified by just responding and figuring out how to work around enough of them and solving enough malfunctions,” said Tech. Sgt. David Kucharik, 924th MXS armament team member. “I’m trying to train the rest of the (team) so they will be able to respond safely and effectively to resolve the gun jams and malfunctions pilots experience.”

The life cycle of the gun system is 250,000 rounds which can last up to approximately 10 to 15 years. Other equipment the Gun Plumbers safely maintain and fix age many years more than the system itself.

Airman 1st Class Darryl Xavier Ball, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament team member, performs a foreign object inspection on an ammunition drum at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 7, 2017. The armament Airmen are also known as “Gun Plumbers” and are dedicated to disassembling, inspecting and assembling the GAU-8 cannon and other aircraft assets.

“The oldest (equipment) in this shop are our ammunition loading assemblies,” Kucharik said. “The ALAs transfer ammunition from the ammunition containers to the aircraft and I know for a fact that some of the ALAs are from the Vietnam era. They’re still olive drab green and they still have 1967 manufacturer inner tubes.”

Every day provides the armament team with a new challenge in order to keep the mission moving forward.

“We have to use modern technology to cost-effectively rebuild these guns and try to make things better,” Kucharik said. “It’s really hard to keep these systems going because they are old — we don’t have parts readily available. We call anyone we can – other bases and the Boneyard.”
 

Airman 1st Class Darryl Xavier Ball, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament team member, performs an element fixture check at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 3, 2017. During the check, Airmen ensure that there are no deformities on the elements.

 

Airman 1st Class Nate Heyward, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament team member, cuts safety wires off of a muscle clamp of a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon from an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 7, 2017. The armament Airmen are also known as “Gun Plumbers” because of their involvement with the GAU-8 cannon.

 

Airmen assigned to the 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron and 924th Maintenance Squadron’s armament sections work at a back shop at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 8, 2017. The Airmen are also known as “Gun Plumbers” and are dedicated to disassembling, inspecting and assembling the GAU-8 cannon and other aircraft assets.

 

Staff Sgt. Christian Hunt, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament section supervisor, performs a torque check on elements of a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 3, 2017. The life cycle of the cannon is 250,000 rounds or approximately 10 to 15 years.

 

Airman 1st Class Darryl Xavier Ball, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament team member, and Tech. Sgt. Orlando Black, 924th Maintenance Squadron armament team member, check the mid rotor of a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon from an A-10C Thunderbolt II for self-locking inserts at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 8, 2017. The armament Airmen are also known as “Gun Plumbers” because of their involvement with the GAU-8 cannon.

 

Airman 1st Class Jonathan Franklin, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament team member, follows a technical order for an annual inspection at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 7, 2017. The Airmen are also known as “Gun Plumbers” and are dedicated to disassembling, inspecting and assembling the GAU-8 cannon and other aircraft assets.

 

Staff Sgt. Christopher Ouellet, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament team member, inspects a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm cannon from an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Aug. 3, 2017. The scheduled inspections are performed either every 63 months or 25,000 rounds fired.