Wood shop key player in aircraft repair work

  • Published
  • By Bill Orndorff
  • 309th Maintenance Wing
Within the 309th Maintenance Support Group, a team of pattern makers are trained and equipped to build a variety of wood products, ranging from tables and shipping containers to molds that help reinforce airplane wings.

The Pattern Making/Wood Products Support Element produces items that benefit aircraft production lines and other areas within the 309th Maintenance Wing.

"We provide immediate service and immediate products for our customers," said Scott Peterson, general maintenance supervisor. "One of the most important things we do is respond to the Aircraft organization -- whether it is A-10s, F-16s, C-130s -- within 15 minutes after they call and request our services."

Aircraft Engineering technicians provide the shop with drawings of the affected aircraft areas and the necessary paperwork to guide them in the repair work. One part of the work helps reinforce cracked areas on airplanes.

Stan Martindale, facility work leader, explained that the pattern makers create a "splash mold" -- an actual impression of an area on an aircraft that is cracked. After the aircraft's paint and sealer are removed, pattern makers fill the hole with automotive body filler -- similar to modeling clay -- mixed with cotton flock for thickening and a catalyst to give it a hard texture, then take an impression.

"It takes about two hours for the mold to reach a sandable state," Mr. Martindale said. "We bring the impression to our shop and smooth it, making sure it keeps the contour of the aircraft. It's taken to the machine shop where a machinist sets it up on a machine that has a stylus and a cutter. It follows the mold and replicates it in a piece of metal, and manufactures a repair part for that one aircraft, one time only."

The repair part reinforces the affected area and saves thousands of dollars in replacement costs.

"We don't keep the molds because one pattern doesn't fit another aircraft. Each aircraft part has taken on a twist and a shape all its own, caused by many hours of flying," Mr. Peterson said. "In fact, we find after years and years of providing the service, if you take the same mold and put it in a different aircraft, it doesn't fit. Using the molds allows us to re-engineer the exact same part that was taken off the aircraft."

The pattern makers work is based on a drawing of the affected area, provided by Aircraft engineering. Each of the shop's 10 employees has been trained for the 15-minute response and subsequent work within the Production Acceptance Certification program.
"This center has one primary function -- manufacture, repair and depot maintenance aircraft. Our part in that has a very short timeframe," Mr. Peterson said. "As long as that aircraft sits on the production line, it costs more money. We've told our customers that within 15 minutes of that phone call, I will have someone stop whatever they are doing on the shop floor and respond to their needs.

"Our schedules suffer a little bit when we stop production on the floor and have our employees respond to a maintenance item in the aircraft arena. Do we get right back on track after the fact? Yes. But our No. 1 function here is support for the Aircraft production line. Anything else we do in here is after the fact. We run 100 percent effective and efficient every day."

The shop firmly established its reputation for quick response in August 1996 when a C-130, carrying a Secret Service vehicle and Air Force crew crashed in the mountains near Jackson, Wyo. The Crash Recovery Crew asked the wood shop to manufacture 86 large airlift containers to transport aircraft parts as part of the crash investigation. The shop had all the containers built, painted and ready for shipping to Wyoming in less than 24 hours.

The shop's woodworking portion, formerly known as the "Wood Mill" has been in operation since the 1930s when it literally supported the base by building doors, window frames, molding, door jambs and other interior parts that can still be seen in older structures. The workload changed as it became cheaper to buy the interior items rather than manufacture them.

"Machinery quality has improved over the years, but many of the older equipment pieces have been here since this facility came to this center," Mr. Peterson said. "You literally cannot replace that equipment because we have, in my mind, a state-of-the-art plant. We can build a lot of things to retrofit and keep this equipment running because you can't buy them anymore. The older technology is still the best and it still has a valuable function. The equipment lasts quite awhile because we have a good maintenance program."

A graphics shop produces decals, labels, safety signage, magnetic threat condition signs and other interior items for wing and host-tenant customers. Additionally, an in-house paint shop allows customers to choose the type of interior or exterior finish they want for the products manufactured in the shop.

For more details about the Pattern Making/Wood Products Support Element, call 777-2379 or 777-2896.