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Inspection team allows flying mission to continue unencumbered

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

SOUTHWEST ASIA (June 25, 2004) -- A four-man team of aircraft specialists arrived in theater in late May to ensure C-130s assigned at one forward deployed location would meet the deadline on a depot-directed inspection.

The depot sent out a time compliance technical order to all units with C-130 aircraft directing that the airframes be inspected for damage or corrosion on portions of the wing structure.

"In this case the inspection was for cracks in the center wing pipe, where the center wing and outer wing join together," said Capt. David Drummond, the C-130 systems engineer that led the team.

Captain Drummond's team included SSgt. Robert Lewis, who performs non-destructive inspections on C-130s, and SSgt. William Walsh and Senior Airman Justin Furman, both perform aircraft structural maintenance.

Because the team deployed specifically to perform the TCTO inspection, regular maintainers at the forward deployed location were able to continue doing their regular jobs. The commander of the expeditionary maintenance group at the location said that had he used his own maintainers to perform the inspection, it might have affected the ongoing mission.

"It would have been less people to do the work we already do here to support the flying," said Col. John Stankowski. "This was maintenance above and beyond normally what we are manned to do. I can't say it would have happened all the time, but it would have happened where some jobs might not have gotten done if our folks had been pulled to do this TCTO."

During the inspection, Capt. Drummond's team looked specifically at the center wing to outer wing joint on both sides of the airframe in addition to the lower wing panels. He said the team found corrosion or damage on five aircraft.

"We have been finding corrosion on the rainbow fittings," he said. "The big thing we found was a lot of cracks on the wing plank and on the rainbow fitting as well. Five airplanes had cracks here. We sent four of them home."

Capt. Drummond's team repaired the remaining aircraft.

"I specifically stop-drilled one of the aircraft," said SrA. Walsh. "It's possible (the crack) could have continued to run and cracked the wing further."

SrA. Walsh said that stop-drilling is one fix for a crack in a wing component. He explained that by drilling a hole where the crack ends, you could prevent it from spreading further. Additionally, he said a sealing compound is used to fill the crack.

One benefit of having a C-130 engineer, an inspector and a repair crew on scene at the same time to work on the TCTO was that questions about the direction of repairs could be handled within the team. Without an engineer present to sign off on possible fixes, the team would have had to wait more than 24 hours for those answers to come back from the United States. That type of delay could leave planes on the ground, instead of flying their missions, said Col. Stankowski.

"It could have taken twice as long to get the answers back maybe three times as long," he said. "So instead of us knowing within hours that a plane would be good to go, we would have had to leave it disassembled. This team brought with them both the manpower and the brainpower to get the job done they worked some miracles for us."

Perhaps the best indicator of that miracle is that the C-130s were able to continue their mission unimpeded while the inspection was taking place, Colonel Stankowski said.

"The amazing thing is, beyond getting airplanes off the ground on time, is that the flying squadron was able to continually eliminate the backlog of cargo in the theater while this TCTO was going on," Col. Stankowski said. "Their mission to move cargo and people. If you have a backlog and you are doing this TCTO and you are able to continue to reduce that backlog, then the mission is getting done."