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B-1 team looks back on accomplishments

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- They did it. They achieved the seemingly impossible.

Tinker personnel recently repaired a horrifically burned B-1 Lancer, which Air Force officials intended to scrap. Despite tremendous obstacles, the task was completed on time and the aircraft returned to Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., its home base.

"This was another great example of the teaming arrangement we have between the B-1 [System Program Office], the 76th Maintenance Wing, the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing, Boeing and the aircraft maintainers in the field," said Col. Michael Pelletier, 427th Aircraft Sustainment Group B-1 System Program manager. "Due to the great work by many dedicated and innovative military and civilian Airmen, we were able to return a badly damaged B-1 to the warfighter."

In 2005, the aircraft, tail number 85-0066, caught fire after landing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. Sparked by a hydraulic fluid leak, there was considerable damage to the landing gear, right wing, engine nacelle, panels and fairings. Air Force officials initially thought it would be more cost effective to retire the aircraft. After all, one entire wing needed to be replaced before the B-1 would fly again.

But, scrapping the 24-year-old aircraft would cost approximately $12 million in demilitarization and shipping costs. Air Force officials reconsidered the idea and ultimately decided against it. In May 2007, a depot field team of 14 members from the 565th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flew to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz. There, they obtained, from a retired B-1, important structural parts - such as a wing and nacelle - for the repair. The parts were shipped to Andersen AFB and arrived in Guam just after the depot field team.

In September 2007, the team started a nine-month project to make the aircraft airborne. Once flyable, the aircraft was flown to Tinker for the remainder of repair. Tinker personnel traditionally perform programmed depot maintenance on the B-1.

"It was in pretty bad shape," said Steve Hillian, 565th AMXS aircraft mechanic and part of the depot field team that repaired the aircraft in Guam and Tinker. "There were a lot of problems for a plane that had been sitting for two years and had not been moved. It was more involved than a regular PDM."

In addition to the fire damage and hydraulic leaks, the aircraft was exposed to Guam's humid climate and had extensive corrosion. Mechanics stripped the aircraft, repaired the structural damage and rebuilt the right side.

"One of the major challenges that faced us when we were out there was not all the parts from other aircraft were completely interchangeable," said Tate Valentine, 565th AMXS aircraft mechanic and part of the depot field team that repaired the aircraft in Guam and Tinker.

"Sometimes you have to do what you got to do to make parts fit and sometimes it took quite a while," Mr. Valentine said. "It was basically a big jigsaw puzzle, taking these large round pegs and putting them in square holes."

Several parts were welded in Guam, while others were manufactured at Tinker and shipped to Andersen AFB.

"Tinker has the facilities for that type of maintenance," Mr. Valentine said, "Guam really didn't."

The team also dealt with the wing. Barbara Alexander, B-1 program manager from the 553rd Aircraft Sustainment Squadron, said a wing had never before removed and replaced with another aircraft wing while the aircraft was in the field.

In June 2008, the aircraft, though still damaged, was capable of flying to Tinker for PDM and corrosion work. A crew from the 10th Flight Test Squadron flew the aircraft to Tinker.

This past April, Tinker personnel finished the job and the aircraft, which mechanics nicknamed "Frankenstein," left Tinker for its home base.

"We took a burnt wreck and put it back in the air," Mr. Hillian said. "It was a challenge we met and exceeded on. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears invested in that plane." Mr. Valentine agreed.

"It was a cumulative effort for a major challenge that each department was able to pull together, organize and accomplish," he said. "We did it and we did it well."