Bringing fabrication to the fight
By Senior Airman Shawn Nickel, 345th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 25, 2013
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The noise of metal being blasted by water jetting from a machine at Mach 3 overwhelms the room. On one side of the shop, joints creek under the extreme pressure of a metal press; sparks fly from another corner.
In the 354th Maintenance Squadron's metals technology shop, Icemen can be found welding metal, manufacturing parts for F-16 Fighting Falcon, or repairing just about any type of metal that has been torn, broken or overworked.
"Any shop on base that needs a part or specialty tool built, whether it be aluminum, titanium or any other kind of metal, we're the guys," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Osvold, 354th MXS NCO in charge of metals technology.
Commonly, a part for an aircraft can't be bought or is just cheaper to make. Technicians running the equipment at the metals shop fabricate these special orders to precision accuracy.
"We are dealing with thousandths of an inch every day," said Senior Airman Robert Mason, 354th MXS metals technology journeyman. "Every measurement has to be exact. We consider grease holes, expansion, pressure ratings and every other characteristic of the part being fabricated."
Tools are an integral part of the aircraft metals technology work center. Airmen are certified to run water jets, which pierce metal using 55,000 pounds per square inch of water and abrasive mixture. They use computer numerically controlled or "CNC" machines to create 3-D cuts in even the hardest steel. They also use more common tools like welders and presses.
Although the technology executes the precision cutting, Osvold said there is no lack of dedication and hard work from the individuals who program these machines to function properly.
"Every design cut or piece of metal shaped has to be built in a CNC drafting program," he said. "Many people believe the machines do all the work, but water pressure has to be changed, calibrations have to be made and designs aren't automatically drawn by computers."
Mason said the job can be challenging yet rewarding, especially when running a machine which takes extreme calibration and intricacy to program.
"We may have to dislodge a stuck bolt or build a bushing for landing gear, it doesn't matter; every day is something different," he said. "It's hard to describe being able to overcome challenges and accomplish something significant on a daily basis."
Planning to make the Air Force a career, he said the best part about the job is being able to overcome challenges every day and make "pretty much anything" out of a chunk of metal.
"We are capable of fabricating complex products to support the mission here; anything to keep the jets in the air or the equipment on the ground running, no matter how long it takes," Mason said.