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Stabilizing the warfighter: Knowledge, versatility keys to shop’s success

Preparing to rotate a B-1 stabilizer, using a new ergonomic work cart at the B-1 Stabilizer/Miscellaneous Shop in Bldg. 9001, are work leader Phil Brewer, left, and sheet metal mechanic Dennis Collins. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Preparing to rotate a B-1 stabilizer, using a new ergonomic work cart at the B-1 Stabilizer/Miscellaneous Shop in Bldg. 9001, are work leader Phil Brewer, left, and sheet metal mechanic Dennis Collins. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Technician Jason Thompson, with the 551st CMMXS, removes damaged aluminum honeycomb core from a B1 horizontal stabilizer tip. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Technician Jason Thompson, with the 551st CMMXS, removes damaged aluminum honeycomb core from a B1 horizontal stabilizer tip. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Installing a fiberglass skin on the inboard leading edge of a B1 horizontal stabilizer, in the Advanced Composites Shop in Bldg. 2211, are 551st CMMXS technicians Tom Appicello and Carl Hayward. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Installing a fiberglass skin on the inboard leading edge of a B1 horizontal stabilizer, in the Advanced Composites Shop in Bldg. 2211, are 551st CMMXS technicians Tom Appicello and Carl Hayward. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Noah Freed, unit chief in the B-1 Stab/Misc Shop, 551st CMMXS, examines a damaged pivot wedge. According to the 424th SCMS/GUEA Engineering Squadron, the part was crushed when the aircraft’s wings pivoted forward. The B-1 Miscellaneous Shop in Bldg. 9001 is responsible for repairing the damaged part. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

Noah Freed, unit chief in the B-1 Stab/Misc Shop, 551st CMMXS, examines a damaged pivot wedge. According to the 424th SCMS/GUEA Engineering Squadron, the part was crushed when the aircraft’s wings pivoted forward. The B-1 Miscellaneous Shop in Bldg. 9001 is responsible for repairing the damaged part. (Air Force photo by Dave Faytinger)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The volume of work in the B-1 Stabilizers and Miscellaneous Shop, 551st Commodities Maintenance Squadron, has multiplied in recent years.

"Four years ago there were only three of us in the shop," said Noah Freed. Today, Mr. Freed is the unit chief and the shop has 18 mechanics.

The B-1 Stab/Misc Shop in Bldg. 9001 supports programmed depot maintenance on not only the left- and right-side horizontal stabilizers on the tail of a B-1 bomber, but also on B-1 flaps, spoilers and rudders.

"Since they work 26 different end items, these mechanics have to be both knowledgeable and versatile," Mr. Freed noted.

After a stabilizer arrives for scheduled maintenance or for damage repair, "composite" pieces -- the inboard leading edge, outboard leading edge, the trailing edge, and the tip -- are removed and sent to another shop, in Bldg. 2211; there, the composites receive a non-destructive inspection with a sonic device, followed by maintenance or repair.
Recently a stabilizer sent to Tinker for repairs had sustained extensive hail damage on its trailing edge, recalled Frank Combites, supervisor, Unit 2, Advanced Composites Facility.

After the composite pieces have been removed, the stripped-down stabilizer is borescoped -- a tiny camera is slipped inside the stabilizer to determine whether the part has any internal damage, such as a crack, missing or sheared fasteners, or any corrosion -- and then X-rayed. If any damage is detected, the Stabilizer Shop contacts Engineering, which evaluates the circumstances and advises the Stab Shop whether to remove the skin and effect the repairs.

Removing the metal skin from a stabilizer is no easy matter. Each stabilizer has approximately 5,000 fasteners that anchor the top skin, Mr. Freed said. Also, the fasteners are more specialized than a simple nut attached to a routine bolt. Some fasteners employed on a B-1 stabilizer cost $100 apiece, Mr. Freed said.

Mechanics in the Stab/Misc Shop also perform a torque test on the bearing and hundreds of screws at the location where the stabilizer attaches to the fuselage, and visually inspect seal retainers and seals, replacing them if necessary.

An overhaul of a stabilizer takes 1,350 man-hours, Mr. Freed said. That includes the Stab/Misc Shop, the Advanced Composites Facility, and painting.

Repairs on just the composites typically take about 56 days to complete, Mr. Freed said. However, "We can get composite parts out in about 40 days when all of our equipment is working properly," Mr. Combites said.

Much of the Stab/Misc Shop repair work requires the use of sheet metal, while most of the repairs on the composite pieces entails patching with the use of fiberglass and carbon-fiber material, Mr. Combites related.

The Advanced Composites Facility has 80 employees in four crews. Of those, Mr. Combites' unit numbers 24, of whom 13 work just on B-1 stabilizer composites, while the others work on various parts from B-1 bombers, KC-135 tankers, B-52 bombers, as well as the E-3 Sentry. "We work on many B-1 parts," he added, including not just stabilizer composites but also wing tips, landing gear doors, bomb bay doors, etc.
Records show that Mr. Freed's unit repaired 31 B-1 stabilizers in fiscal year 2011, three times as many as the 10 repaired in FY2010. In a related matter, the shop had 10 Mission Impaired Capability, Awaiting Parts situations in FY2010, but no MICAPs in FY2011, Mr. Freed related. (The Defense Logistics Agency is "a main source of our parts," he said.)

Besides their Tinker work, the Stab/Misc Shop provides field support when necessary, which occurs on average 23 times a year. "When a plane breaks down at a remote location and they need a particular serviceable part," he said, "we'll get one and ship it to them."

Mr. Freed communicates daily with Shelly Emmons, B-1 Logistics Management specialist, to determine programmed depot maintenance need dates and field demands, "to make sure we deliver serviceable assets on time."

Relocating the B-1 Stab/Misc Shop to Bldg. 9001 "has allowed us to develop a lean repair process that includes modular flow," Mr. Freed said. The Composite Shop, as well, will be moved to Bldg. 9001 soon, which should enhance the modular flow process.

B-1 stabilizers and rudders require maintenance approximately every five years, Mr. Freed said.

The Stab/Misc Shop is expected to pick up even more work soon. Maintenance of B-1 flaps has been performed by a major defense contractor, but that contract expired and the responsibility is coming to Mr. Freed's group.

Repair work is much easier now, with the purchaseof three B-1 stabilizer ergonomic work carts that can turn a stabilizer vertically on its edge or horizontally on its side. "We used to have a lot of eye and back injuries, because a mechanic had to lie on his back to work on a stabilizer," Mr. Freed said. Because of the ergonomic work carts, most job-related eye and back injuries have been eliminated, he said.

B-1 Stab/Misc Shop mechanics who were hired in the last 24 months have all been trained at Metro Tech or Francis Tuttle Career Technology Center. Metro Tech has an 18-month program in which graduates receive an Air Frame and Power Plant certificate from the FAA. The Francis Tuttle course spans 34 weeks and is confined to sheet metal work and technical data reading.

Mr. Freed has worked at Tinker AFB for seven years. Previously he worked on the shop floor alongside the other mechanics. He earned a master's degree in aerospace administration and logistics from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2010, and has been the Stab/Misc Shop unit chief for six months.

The 551st CMMXS director is Mike Mowles; the deputy director is Ginger Keisling; the flight chief is Phil Moser, and the section chief is Wade Palmer.