Fit to fly
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Senior Airman Daniel Richards, 5th Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, uses a pneumatic sander to file a sheet metal patch. The patch of metal being trimmed will be used to repair a crack in the main landing gear door of a B-52H Stratofortress. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kristoffer Kaubisch)
by Senior Airman Jose L. Hernandez
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
6/4/2012 - MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The phrase "keeping the Buff in top physical condition" makes it sound as though the plane has a life of its own, with physical training standards to meet.
Yet, it is not far removed from the fact that for more than five decades, Airmen have long been safeguarding and upholding the best in maintenance for the B-52H Stratofortress, ensuring it continues to perform at the highest standards.
One unit at Minot Air Force Base that is quintessential to maintaining the Buff in one piece, quite literally, is the 5th Maintenance Squadron's Aircraft Structural Maintenance division. These Airmen are in charge of preserving the structural integrity of the B-52H.
Whether it is beefing up the plane with a fresh coat of paint or treating corrosion through mechanical and chemical procedures, these Airmen are dedicated to providing 24/7 support.
As such, there are currently more than 40 Airmen who work day in and day out ready to refurbish the plane. These Airmen begin the inspection process by inspecting an aircraft's structure and components, determine its operational status, interpret inspection findings, and determine the correct action to take as required.
Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Kinlaw, 5th MXS section chief of corrosion and sheet metal, explained there are a variety of tasks they are expected to be knowledgeable on within this career field.
Because they are repairing potential major defects for the structural part of the aircraft, it is essential they become experts at working with anything from fiberglass and sheetmetal, to fabricated tubing and composites and much more. On top of all this, they need to know how to properly operate the various shop equipment and tools that come with servicing and completing a job.
Kinlaw also explained, depending on certain situations, when it comes to aircraft structural damage, they go out and work directly on the flight line or in a dock where an aircraft is stationed.
Even in the wintertime, the Airmen still go out and perform their duties in the chilly North Dakota weather, sometimes they are limited to completing only certain tasks due to the fact that some equipment used must be operated at certain temperatures in order to correctly function.
Workload for the job itself is something that depends on the aircraft being serviced. Here in Minot, Kinlaw explained, there is a bit of an increase in work orders because of the B-52H's age, but at the end of the day what matters is completing a job well. However, some structural maintenance tasks do require quite some time.
"Some jobs can take days, weeks or even minutes to complete," said Kinlaw. Here in Minot, he recalled having to perform corrosion fixes on a plane which took more than a month to complete.
Fortunately, he said personnel within teams working on a job can switch out, which provides for a better turnover on job completion.
Overall, Kinlaw said he enjoys the job because there is always something different to do every day and there is always good job satisfaction when accomplishing a task.
Airman 1st Class David Ballone, 5th MXS aircraft structural maintenance journeyman, had the same to saying, "it seems like we learn something new every day. With the challenges that come our way, we learn."