Fix these broken wings – part fabrication saves Air Force time, money

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Air Force photograph by Dawn Waldman A T-38 Talon assigned to the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School taxis at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Team Edwards members worked together to save the Air Force more than $1 million in repair costs recently at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Airmen from the 412th Maintenance Squadron discovered damages on a T-38 Talon during a 225-hour inspection.

“During a standard 225-hour T-38 inspection, we found one substantial crack around a riveted area,” said Senior Airman Aliyah Vasquez, 412th MXS, Non-Destructive Inspection Section.

The maintenance team discovered the crack by using an ultrasonic scan, a non-destructive technology, she said.

 “They (MXS) have 500 different inspections they do, they found one hole in the wing that was cracked; after going back and forth with engineering, they basically decided to change the wings,” said Owen McCallister, Metal Technologies Supervisor, 412th MXS.

Replacement wings were ordered, but when they arrived the holes in the wings didn’t match up exactly with the existing holes in the aircraft, McCallister said.

When they mated the wings and fuselage, two front mounts were still off by 27-thousandths of an inch, a width of about eight sheets of paper, he said. That may not sound like it’s off by much to the average person, but the high stresses aircraft undergo during flight require exacting tolerances. Ordering new parts would have cost more than a million dollars and would have kept the aircraft out of flight status until the new wings could arrive and be installed.

Senior Airman Aliyah Vasquez, 412th MXS, Non-Destructive Inspection Section, demonstrates a scanning tool used to identify cracks in air plane parts. (Air Force photograph by Giancarlo Casem)

But the technicians had an idea that saved a lot of time and a lot of money.

“We went back to engineering, and they gave us the ‘OK’ to make two off-set bushings…that moved the holes over so they fit the aircraft,” McCallister said. “The left side went well; the right side was actually gouged by the manufacturer, so we had to make a fixture to open that hole up, clean it up, and put a new bushing in it.”

The total process took only roughly three weeks – much faster and cheaper than reordering new wings from the manufacturer.

“By the time we were done, it went on the plane very nice, it lined up great,” McCallister said.

The time the maintenance crew saved meant that the T-38 could be returned to operational status much sooner and continue its mission. The process also meant that this procedure can be done on similar aircraft with similar issues.