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Combat metals: The modern-day blacksmiths

Master Sgt. Andrew Liederbach, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron combat metals flight chief, inserts temporary placeholders where the rivits will be placed after the permanent patch is complete at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 6, 2019. When the damage first occurred, Liederbach and his team got their tools and materials together to fly to the aircraft to place a temorary patch on the wing to get it back to base for a permanent repair.

Master Sgt. Andrew Liederbach, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron combat metals flight chief, inserts temporary placeholders where rivets will be placed after a permanent patch is complete at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 6, 2019. When the damage first occurred, Liederbach and his team got their tools and materials together to fly to the aircraft to place a temorary patch on the wing to get it back to base for a permanent repair. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy L. Mosier)

Senior Airman Conor Goetsch, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron combat metals journeyman, applies the final coat of paint to the leading edge patch that the combat metals team manufactured and installed at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 8, 2019. The entire process took the combat metals flight 144 hours to complete, which got the aircraft back in the fight three-weeks earlier than if they would have ordered the part.

Senior Airman Conor Goetsch, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron combat metals journeyman, applies the final coat of paint to the leading edge patch the combat metals team manufactured and installed at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 8, 2019. The entire process took the combat metals flight 144 hours to complete, which got the aircraft back in the fight three weeks earlier than if they would have ordered the part. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy L. Mosier)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- While there are a lot of precautionary measures in place to prevent bird strikes and other aircraft incidents, they are not 100 percent preventable.

When these incidents occur, there’s a small group of Airmen who are called upon to do patchwork to get the aircraft back to base and to fix the damage as quickly as possible to mitigate ground time for the aircraft.

These Airmen and what they do is not completely well known. But, their impact on the flying mission is felt across the maintenance world.

They are the combat metals flight, the modern-day blacksmiths.

“Most maintenance people change parts but we have to make our own parts, from raw materials and then install them,” explained Master Sgt. Andrew Liederbach, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron combat metals flight chief.

In a deployed environment they are responsible for anything and everything fabrication.

Whether it’s putting a part together or creating the part from scratch, The combat metals flight supports units stationed with the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing and those passing through.

In a recent mishap their capabilities were showcased when a bird struck the leading edge of a wing on a C-130 Hercules. The small bird left a softball-sized hole in the wing and grounded the aircraft until it could be repaired.

Shortly after this occurred Liederbach and his team jumped into action to get the aircraft fitted for a one-time flight patch so it could make the trip back to base.

Due to the aircraft being grounded at an airfield with little to no ability to support the patching of a wing, Liederbach explained they had to pack all their tools to take with them.

“We took some metal with us and made the patch on site by hand,” he said.

In just five hours they were able to get the aircraft patched and cleared for flight.

Once the aircraft was back to base, the wing leading edge panel was removed and taken to the metal shop where the extensive work would begin.

Because the aircraft is a valuable asset to the 386 AEW’s mission, there was no time to wait for a new leading edge to be shipped.

They were going to have to repair it by creating every part and piece by hand from sheets of metal.

Liederbach explained that the damage had extended into the inner skin of the wing and had actually crushed one of the rib supports.

The creation of the new rib was one of the most time consuming and frustrating parts of the project.

After it was all said and done, the combat metals section worked 144 total hours and created more than 30 parts from scratch.

With the shop creating all the parts in house it cut nearly three weeks off the downtime of the aircraft.

“We would have potentially lost the ability to fly at least four missions, and it would have put even more strain on the remaining aircraft and crews,” explained Chief Master Sgt. Bryan Ford, 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron superintendent.

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