New AF maintenance technology keeps aging tankers flying

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Benjamin W. Stratton
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFNS) -- The 92nd Maintenance Squadron now uses a new technologically advanced parts fabrication machine extending the life of one of the Air Force's oldest airframes -- the KC-135 Stratotanker.

"Our shop is consistently working on procuring technologically advanced machines, tools and equipment within our budget limitations," said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Knapp, a 92nd MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman.

Although today's defense budget places certain restraints on Fairchild's capacity to fulfill mission and combatant commander requirements, Fairchild's maintainers are finding new ways to cut costs and still provide responsive, precise air refueling and operational support for the full range of military operations.

"Our new 3-D laser imaging arm is absolutely advanced and saves not only inexplicable amounts of money, but man hours as well," said Tech. Sgt. Gregory Kirchner, a 92nd MXS aircraft metals technology craftsman. "We went from capturing and processing a single part in more than 15 hours to less than 20 minutes and increased the success rates from a 40 percent fail rate to nearly perfect every time."

The ROMER Absolute Arm is a portable measurement and 3-D scanning solution used to perform computer-aided design-to-part inspections and accurately capture 3-D features and freeform shapes for reverse engineering tasks.

Knapp said the reverse engineering aspect of the machine is extremely crucial as many parts needed to keep the KC-135 mission capable are no longer made and with aircraft boneyards running out of spare useable parts, this technology's importance couldn't be timelier.

"We are working on a 60-year-old airframe that is really becoming limited by the lack of parts in the supply chain," Knapp said. "It's falling on us to be able to reverse engineer many of these parts without any kind of drawings, technical data or blueprints from parts that have worn out of service or broken and in pieces and recreate it."

Thankfully though, Knapp said there's really not much limit to what they can do with the new scanner enabling Fairchild Airmen to continue providing global reach for America.

"The sky is really the limit because we can build a finished product for the airframe from essentially nothing," Knapp said. "This machine brings our shop up to par with the civilian machining world enabling us to efficiently produce the best possible parts needed for maintaining air power around the world."