April 7, 2015 (by SrA Michael Washburn) - With a calm, yet stern voice, Tech. Sgt. Joshua Lucero guides the four Airmen located below the right wing of a C-130 Hercules, #74-2067, who are giving a piggy back ride to a leading edge - the front part of the wing that covers the internals components . They're trying to attach it back to the wing.
USAF C-130H #74-2067 from 36 AS takes off from the flightline at Yokota AB on March 17, 2015. The C-130 suffered catastrophic damage to the wing section which required a complete rebuild. [USAF photo by SrA Michael Washburn]
"Guys, it needs to come out, over to the right, up and then back in," instructs Lucero, 374th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron electrical and environmental systems technician.
The Airmen comply as they attempt to align the teeth on both the leading edge and the aircraft, but the smallest of movements can throw it out of alignment. It doesn't want to fit and it's becoming a trying task.
Lucero continues directing for the next 10 minutes or so as the group moves. Up, down, left, right, forward, back; they follow every instruction until they finally achieve victory. Albeit a small one.
But that's how the last two months have been. A series of victories toward an inevitable goal: to get Number 2067 back in the air where it belongs and not on the ground like a bird with its wings clipped. The aircraft suffered damage to its wings. Damage so severe that even Master Sgt. Jonathan Dowell, a 21-year veteran maintainer, has never seen anything like it.
"We checked the aircraft during a maintenance run and all the circuit breakers started to pop in the flight deck," said Dowell, 374 AMXS production superintendent. "Following this, a bleed air duct ruptured between the number three and four engines."
As they took the wing panels off, shrapnel fell out. The team was taken aback and shocked at the amount of damage 2067 had sustained. It was not something that was seen in their day-to-day maintenance.
Adding to the shock of seeing the damage was the news that a team of eight Airmen were tasked to rebuild the aircraft instead of a program maintenance depot team. This was an unusual decision given the extent of the repairs, but the team was up to the challenge.
"Everything between the number three and four engines was destroyed," Lucero said. "We replaced about 3,500 feet of wire along with a handful of line-replaceable units, brackets and the boost pump for the fuel tank."
From mid-January until late March, the eight-man maintenance team worked on the time-consuming to-do list. Remove the leading edges: check. Rewire the entire wing: check. Ensure the anti-ice system works properly: check. It was all very Humpty Dumpty-esque, but they were determined to put all the pieces back together until it was whole again.
"All the leading edges were removed, all the ducts inspected, damaged parts fixed and then we needed to put it back together," said Tech. Sgt. John Beltran, C-130 Hercules 2067 dedicated crew chief.
After two months of work and an estimated 5,000 man-hours, the time came to tow the C-130 from Hangar 15 to its rightful place on the flightline and eventually in the air.
As Number 2067 lifted off from the flightline, it did so before a gathered crowd of Airmen and higher leadership. They watched as the wheels left the ground and it climbed into the sky. It was a moment of pride and accomplishment for everyone, but none could be prouder than the eight Airmen who worked for the last two months. Everyone applauded and congratulated each other as the plane disappeared into the distance.
For Beltran, being able to work on the repairs for 2067 has brought him closer to the aircraft.
"I've been working 12 hours a day for the last two months," Beltran said. "Spending every minute of every day with the aircraft has allowed me to really see all the pieces I didn't see before. It brings you closer to the aircraft. You care about it more because you've invested so much time in it and it becomes your baby."