Modern-day blacksmiths

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Faint noises of welding, grinding and rock-and-roll music can be heard roaming from the 22nd Maintenance Squadron's metals technology shop.

Inside, Airmen work with precision tools, gauges, dies, and fixtures to craft and repair parts for KC-135 Stratotankers and attend to most other metal repairing needs on base.

"We specialize in fabrication," said Senior Airman James Rosenthal, 931st Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight metals technician journeyman. "Whether it's something small like a stuck screw or a vital part of an aircraft that's not in production anymore, we can make it. Name any metal component on that plane, and we can make it."

While metal workers in the past primarily relied on using a hammer and anvil for their profession, modern day metals technicians here are equipped with an arsenal of advanced machinery.

These maintenance Airmen must be careful with their craft to overcome inherent dangers of the job.

"Every machine in this section has the potential to seriously injure or kill the operator if proper safety guidelines are not followed," said Master Sgt. Curtis Davis, 22nd MXS fabrication flight metals technician NCO in charge. "Safety and adherence to technical order guidance comes first in aircraft metals technology."

Without a specific set of instructions, technicians are capable of replicating any piece of equipment. Their capabilities are only limited by their own creativity.

"If you give us a part that needs to be reproduced without the instructions for it, we are able to figure out what kind of material it is, take its measurements and come up with our own blueprint." said Rosenthal, "Then we go through the process of actually manufacturing it."

Metals technology Airmen are trained to sketch objects from several angles in order to make copies of them.

"There's quite a bit of math when you're putting drawings into the computer," said Airman 1st Class Abraham Vidulich, 22nd Maintenance Squadron fabrication flight metals technician, "but it seems to become second nature over time, just like everything else over here."

Airmen also determine what type of metal the object is made of by using a hardness tester. The machine applies a certain amount of pressure on an object and can read what type of metal it is made of based on the items density.

Turning a concept into reality can be completed in a day's worth of work or, for more complicated objects, require several weeks to complete. No matter the workload, teamwork is essential.

"Generally, we work in pairs," said Rosenthal. "Either someone is showing another how to use a certain machine or is assisting someone else. It takes two people to do pretty much anything here."

It's possible for each technician in the shop to handle the same item throughout its production.

"The process, from beginning to end is pretty interesting - how you can start by sketching a specific part itself and turn that drawing into a tangible object," said Vidulich.

One of the newer technicians of the 22nd MXS fabrication flight, Airman 1st Class Ronald Boss, compares his metals technician position to being similar to a modern blacksmith or sculptor.

"It's definitely a form of art," he said. "I noticed that every day here is a learning experience. Whether you're an Airman or NCO, there is always something new to learn."

Metals technicians are given opportunities to apply their creative skills to their work on a regular basis. The skills and services they provide offer McConnell AFB a cost-effective way to keep machines operating, equipment functioning and aircraft flying.

"We definitely practice the philosophy of 'measure twice, cut once' at our shop," said Vidulich. "It saves us time, materials and a lot of frustration. You have to be really patient throughout the process but it's really rewarding. That's why I enjoy coming to work every day."