Airmen of Steel Published Jan. 13, 2015 By Senior Airman Colby L. Hardin 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Colby L. Hardin MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Crew chiefs are the first people who come to mind when thinking of aircraft maintenance. One back shop provides the crew chiefs with the parts they need to replace the damaged ones. Working in the 22nd Maintenance Squadron Sheet Metal shop could mean you are doing a variety of things. No day is average in sheet metal. "We're one of the busier shops on the flightline," said Master Sgt. Christopher Akers, 22nd Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance section chief. "The whole plane is made out of metal, so everything is pretty much directed around us." The sheet metal shop is known for being able to create pieces that can't be ordered or replaced on site. "We evaluate things that are out of the normal training for crew chiefs," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Shields, 22nd MXS aircraft structural maintenance craftsman. "Whenever they find unserviceable parts that can't be fixed in the hangar, we're usually the experts they go to." "One of the biggest challenges of the job is that you don't know where you'll end up working during the day," added Shields. "You can come into sheet metal and end up working corrosion or media blasting, where you remove all of the paint or rust off of the wheels." Working throughout the day can be rough, but once the job is done the Airmen feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. "As a younger Airman, I was a little jealous of my peers who would go home after an eight hour day," Akers added. "But then it finally kicked in that I work where the rubber meets the road I get to see the direct impact of what I do every day." Working with the aging KC-135R Stratotanker, Airmen in the shop have plenty of work to do. "One thing that makes this job challenging is that the KC-135s are so old," Akers said. "You have a lot of corrosion and cracks that keep showing up that you wouldn't have on a newer aircraft." A lot of work is put into the aircraft here and most of it starts or ends with the sheet metal shop. "While the crew chiefs are getting the planes ready, we could be out there changing a nut plate, but then we'll get back on the truck, head to the shop and get started on the next project," said Akers. "I tell the guys in the shop here all of the time, that they're the unsung heroes of the base."