JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA –
Joint Base Charleston C-17 Globemaster IIIs travel around the world transporting cargo, people, munitions and humanitarian supplies. When they return, maintenance is required.
The 437th Maintenance Squadron Sheet Metal and Corrosion Shop is responsible for maintaining and repairing the airframe of the C-17.
“We work on three major components of the aircraft; metal repair, composite repair and corrosion control,” said Master Sgt. Jeff Williams, 437th MXS Sheet Metal and Corrosion aircraft structural maintenance chief. “We can also work on the cables and fuel lines of the aircraft. Our job is to assess and advise on repairs, modifications and corrosion treatment with respect to original strength, weight and contour to maintain structural integrity.”
Continuously maintaining the aircraft here, requires constant effort 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Because of the large number of C-17s calling Joint Base Charleston home, there is a continuous flow coming into hangars for minor or major repairs.
“At Joint Base Charleston alone, we have 48 C-17s constantly in need of maintenance,” said Tech. Sgt. James Hurst, 437th MXS Sheet Metal and Corrosion assistant NCO in charge. “Because of the number of aircraft we have, we easily perform 1,200 to 1,500 repair actions per month.”
With the inordinate volume of repair actions, other factors such as inclement weather and manning can impact productivity. However, the MXS personnel find alternate options to accomplish the mission.
“Because of how demanding it is to keep planes coming in and out, we find scheduling, manning, inclement weather and first-time repairs are constant obstacles to overcome ensuring our productivity doesn’t slow down,” said Williams. “Even with these inconveniences in our path, we always find a way to work around the issue so our aircraft get back to 100 percent efficiency supporting the Air Force and the Joint Base Charleston mission.”
To ensure these Airmen are able to perform at the highest level, the Air Force sends them to technical training to learn how to fix and maintain aircraft at Pensacola Naval Auxiliary Station, Florida. After arriving at their final duty station, the Airmen perform a considerable amount of on the job training learning how to properly fix and maintain the airframes specific to their base.
“The amazing thing about our Airmen is the Air Force brings in these new individuals into our career field, sends them to a new base and they are tasked with working on these multimillion-dollar aircraft,” said Williams. “These Airmen are trusted with an enormous responsibility; the lives of the men and women who set foot on every single aircraft we have. This pushes us to go above and beyond to make sure the aircraft and the people inside of them come home safely.”
Maintaining an aircraft varies depending on the amount of damage the aircraft has received. Sometimes, even with 24-hour operations, it can take over a week to fully repair an aircraft, including repainting.
“Repainting aircraft is actually more necessary than you might think,” said Williams. “What we are actually doing is preventing and managing corrosion of up to 60 percent of the aircraft. If the corrosion issue is worse than that, the aircraft is sent to a painting depot to be entirely repainted. Just last year, our painting facility finally reopened after being shut down for two years. Now that it’s back up, we are able to provide all the major components of our job on this base.”
Possessing innovative skills, these Airmen manufacture parts by hand whenever necessary to properly repair an aircraft.
“Our Airmen can take a piece of regular, flat sheet metal and mold it and form it into the exact part needed for the job,” said Williams.
With a shop comprised of 49 active duty and civilian members conducting aircraft structural maintenance on 48 C-17 Globemaster III’s, the Sheet Metal and Corrosion Shop work under Aircraft structural maintenance (ASM) as part of the fabrication flight at Joint Base Charleston. The flight consists of the nondestructive inspection shop and the metals technology shop, which work together to ensure the C-17s remain operational.
“It is a wonder to watch what the people in this shop can do,” said Williams. “They have proven they can handle such a mission-critical job in the Air Force and I couldn’t be more proud of the team we have.”