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Logistics center keeps Stratotanker 'booming'

by Crystal Toenjes
72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Photo by Margo Wright

Michelle Henn works in the tear down area of the overhaul shop, disconnecting hydraulic and electrical lines and removing the tail cone of a KC-135ís refueling boom.

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The aerial refueling capability of the KC-135 Stratotanker is an essential component of the Air Force's worldwide mission.

And the experts in two Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center shops ensure every refueling the tankers make is safe and successful.

Specifically, the two shops work on the KC-135's boom, the tube that carries fuel to a receiving aircraft. One shop is responsible for completely overhauling booms. The other is charged with carrying out periodic maintenance on booms currently in service.

Although the shops have very different responsibilities, their people are dedicated to the same mission.

"We're the only facility in the world that overhauls the boom, and we know how important what we do is to the warfighter," said Eddie Martinez, the overhaul shop supervisor. "Our mission is to get that boom ready to fly."

In the overhaul shop, 22 mechanics completely disassemble each boom, doing minor or major overhauls as needed. This is the only shop in the center that requires every mechanic to be certified in electronic, hydraulics and sheet metal. It can take a year for a mechanic to earn all of the certifications needed.

"The customer brings the boom to us for a complete overhaul," Mr. Martinez said. "We make a new boom."

A minor overhaul -- in which the main structure of the boom, including the hydraulic and electrical components that do not have to be replaced -- requires about 700 man hours. However, a major overhaul -- which he said is "essentially creating an entirely new boom" -- takes longer. It can take a boom nearly 1,000 man hours to move through the shop's seven cells.

"Every time the boom moves from one cell to another cell it gets inspected because we want to ensure the quality and safety," he said. "We want to make sure when our customer gets our boom overhauled here at Tinker its ready to be installed on the aircraft and perform the mission."

In the first cell, the flat metal plates which cover the boom are removed and it is inspected to determine whether it requires a minor or major overhaul. The next step is to completely disassemble the boom which has 219 individual components, brackets, frames, housings, cables, transmitters, switches and more than 1,450 pieces of hardware.

"We inspect every single part of the boom," Mr. Martinez said. "We try to keep the costs of overhauling each boom down but that does not mean we cut any corners in regards to quality or safety."

The boom is then washed and sent to the sheet metal section, where about 500 man hours will go into repairing or replacing all the sheet metal components.

In the final three cells, the electrical and hydraulic components are reinstalled, the boom undergoes rigorous operational testing and finally the sheet metal skins are reattached.

Mr. Martinez, who started as a mechanic in the shop in 1995, said the shop's normal work load is to produce 12 booms a month.

"It's a place where you never stop learning," he said. "That's what I like about the boom shop. You never face the same thing. Every boom has its own story."

In the maintenance shop, periodic depot maintenance is carried out on the booms to ensure those already in service are operating safely and efficiently.

After a boom is stripped from the aircraft during regular maintenance, the four mechanics in the shop have 15 days to complete all the periodic depot maintenance required by the work specifications, said work leader Carter Haynes. These checks include bearing changes, removing paint and disassembling other components checking for cracks and other defects.

The shop can have as many as six booms at once going through 30 separate maintenance checks each.

Once the checks and any necessary repairs are completed, the boom is installed back on the aircraft and undergoes operational and in-fight testing.

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