News: Component Maintenance steps into 21st century
Story by Airman 1st Class Andrea Posey
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. - For the past three years, the 1st Special Operations Component Maintenance Squadron has been working to get new C-130 equipment to detect fuel tank leaks faster and easier than their current equipment.
This journey began when Master Sgt. Jeffrie Gardner, 1st SOCMS accessories flight chief, attended an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century event. This event teaches Airmen and supervisors how to map out processes which error proof work areas and situations to make the best product delivery possible in the simplest way.
"One of the things I was tasked to do was to find new, different and more modern test equipment," said Gardner. "I already knew about the equipment, did some research, read up on it and contacted the company in Nashville, Tenn."
This led Gardner and a team from Hurlburt Field and Duke Field, Fla., to Nashville to test the equipment and help write all of the C-130 technical orders.
"I got involved and wrote all of the test procedures for C-130 Air Force-wide," he said.
Gardner and his team also went to the Coast Guard Depot in Elizabeth City, N.C. where they validated and verified the procedures they wrote and demonstrated how to use the equipment.
C-130 equipment the 1st SOCMS currently use is from the 1950s, according to Gardner.
"The wing of a C-130 is nothing but fuel tanks," he said. "If there is a leak, it can be a pain because there's not an exact science [to finding a leak], so it takes a lot of finesse."
The process for repairing a leak begins with finding it first, according to Tech. Sgt. Scott Nevius, 1st SOCMS assistant fuel systems shop chief.
Depending on what tank the leak is coming from, maintainers may need to remove components blocking it. Once they get to the leak, the surrounding area inside the tank is scraped, according to Nevius.
After a maintainer cleans and preps the area, they must apply a new coat of sealant to prevent the aircraft from leaking again, Nevius said.
Finally, the crew closes everything back up and refuels the aircraft to ensure the leak is fixed, according to Nevius.
"A pin hole [leak] can cost us two or three missions depending on how far we need to go into the tank," Gardner said.
Nevius said this job is difficult for different reasons.
"It's extremely dangerous," he said. "Our major [safety] concerns are static electricity and fuel fumes. Anytime we go into an open fuel tank, we are required to wear tri-layer coveralls, air supplied respirators and gloves."
This is the same gear firemen wear when they enter a burning building, Gardner said.
Along with those dangers, there are also very tight spaces crew members crawl through to reach components or leaks, said Nevius.
The new equipment uses ambient air and helium to pressurize the tank, said Gardner. It also has a touch screen.
"Helium is used because it is the smallest particle on the periodic table," he said. "It gets into cracks and rivets along the front of the tank where ambient air may not fit through."
The equipment is a multiple box set about the size of a small trunk. Each equipment box does a different job, said Gardner.
At this time, the squadron has the Helitest Wing Kit and the Tank Pressurization Kit. Gardner said they are waiting to receive the Rapid Curing Device.
Gardner said the equipment works in a sequence. One box attaches to the airplane and fills the tank with helium. Another box detects helium with a wand. The wand pin points the exact location of the leak. The last box gives off radiant heat to seal the sealant.
"Using the new machinery, the time [for sealant to dry] was cut down from 12 hours to 37 minutes," he said.
The older equipment takes three or four members to operate. The new equipment requires one person from start to finish, Gardner said.
"When my guys are out of the tank, my non-mission capable time goes down, which is what I want," he said. "Anytime we can be more efficient means more time aircrews can train."
Gardner said, once the squadron gets a time frame to bring an aircraft in for training, the shop will field the equipment and track the numbers for six or eight months to see if it's cost effective.