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Periodic inspection: Just what the ‘tanker doc’ ordered

Senior Airman Robert Viera, a 22nd Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance journeyman, disassembles a damaged troop seat on a KC-135 Stratotanker during a periodic inspection, April 13, 2015, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. During the inspections, maintenance crews thoroughly examine the entire aircraft and make any necessary repairs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht)

Senior Airman Robert Viera, a 22nd Maintenance Squadron aerospace maintenance journeyman, disassembles a damaged troop seat on a KC-135 Stratotanker during a periodic inspection, April 13, 2015, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. During the inspections, maintenance crews thoroughly examine the entire aircraft and make any necessary repairs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. (AFNS) -- For more than 40 years, KC-135 Stratotankers have been flying over the sunflower state, and just like any other crew member, they need their "check-ups" too.

Keeping the 60-year-old planes up-to-date and safe to fly takes more than a simple check-up; it takes a team of tanker "docs" ensuring each aircraft undergoes proper treatment.

Every two years, or 1,800 flight hours, each KC-135 assigned to McConnell Air Force Base must go through an in-depth inspection, also known as a periodic inspection.

On average, 21 inspections are completed a year by crew chiefs and jet engine back shop Airmen from the 22nd Maintenance Squadron working three shifts around the clock.

The first step in the inspection process is to remove all the aircraft panels on the aircraft once it arrives in the hangar. The maintenance team of about 100 Airmen work together for about two days to accomplish this task, said Senior Airman Seth Rex, a 22nd MXS inspections section apprentice.

Once all panels have been removed, the team inspects every inch of the aircraft, inside and out, leaving no nut or bolt unchecked.

"We get in the nitty-gritty small spaces," Rex said. "We lube all the points that need to be lubed, and we look for cracks and any other kind of damage."

The maintenance crews repair many of the discrepancies that are found during the thorough inspection, but sometimes special attention is required.

When a problem cannot be fixed within this section, the job is delegated to a shop that works in a specific area of expertise, such as sheet metal, hydraulics or electro-environmental.

Staff Sgt. Keith Barney, a 22nd MXS aerospace propulsion craftsman, works side by side with the inspection section crew chiefs, but his focus is on the aircraft engines.

"We make sure the engine is operating at the parameters it's supposed to operate at from the lowest power setting to the highest power setting," Barney said. "Anything we find that's broken or doesn't meet the inspection criteria, we fix or replace it, or do whatever we have to do to get it back where it's supposed to be."

Usually within two weeks, maintenance teams have meticulously inspected and made repairs to an entire aircraft, which is then ready to be launched for a test flight.

"The pilots come out, run their ground test and do their look-over," Rex said. "We fix whatever problems they may have and get ready to send (the aircraft) off."

As the KC-135 lifts off the ground, the maintenance crews sit back to watch their hard work pay off and anticipate the call from the aircrew verifying it's a "code one" aircraft, meaning it's good to go.

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